Rounders follows Michael McDermott (Matt Damon), a talented young poker player and first year law student who loses his entire savings in an underground poker game. After this loss, McDermott tries to go “legit” and gets a real job, only to be drawn back into the gambling world.
Every gambling crime-drama follows the same basic formula: at the beginning of the movie the hero, the main gambler, loses his entire savings to a highly skilled and amoral opponent. After this loss the hero, broke and despondent, tries to move away from gambling. Eventually however, the hero regains his or her confidence, and prevails in a rematch against their previous opponent, winning back their bankroll, with some profit on top. In this sense, Rounders does not deviate at all from this basic plot structure. What elevates Rounders from sheer mediocrity is its vibrant performances.
Matt Damon does an excellent playing the main character. McDermott is a good man, from a humble background, who genuinely wants to live a normal life, but he loves poker far too much to completely devote himself to law school. Damon taps his experiences playing Will Hunting in the movie Good Will Hunting- an impoverished genius from South Boston- when playing McDermott, making him feel grounded and relatable. However, the best performance in this movie was Edward Norton’s. Norton plays Worm, McDermott’s crooked friend from high school, who is a poker hustler who uses sleight of hand to rig poker games. Norton beautifully displays Worm’s imbalanced personality with his body language and speech patterns, always twitching and moving around, while incessantly chattering, confusing his friends and opponents alike. Damon and Norton have great onscreen chemistry, with Norton continuously irritating Damon, while Damon tries to contain his hyperactive partner.
Overall, Rounders is a pleasing film. I personally enjoy crime-dramas, and I particularly love gambling movies since I think that the strategy behind poker is fascinating, despite my pitiful lack of skill. That being said, Rounders offers little in the way of unique or innovative elements and only makes up for this lack of creativity with two great leading men, resulting in a fairly pleasing yet bland movie. All in all, Rounders is like a midnight snack: exactly what you need at midnight, but hardly quality at any other time of the day.