In the vein of The Cincinnati Kid (1965) and a sprinkle of The Sting (1972) John Dahl brings us Rounders. Card prodigy Mike McDermott (Matt Damon) quits the game after losing everything. Once Mike’s best friend Les “Worm” Murphy (Edward Norton), gets out of jail, Worm attempts to get Mike back into the poker world. As Worm’s behavior begins to implicate Mike, Mike decides to come out of poker retirement.
The film itself is good. The on-screen chemistry between Damon and Norton is not forced. The other performances in the film do not distract from the narrative, with Martin Landau’s standing out. The film is shot very plainly without too many fancy editing techniques or wild Dutch angles. Dahl simply conveys a character piece that does what it is set out to do with little failure. David Levien and Brian Koppelman’s script has been appropriately dubbed “cool” by the poker community. Upon initial viewing most poker references will soar above the viewer’s head. However, upon multiple viewings, you tend to pick up on the language. This collector’s edition offers a plethora of bonus features which is miles away from the previous release.
The film is shot fairly basically. John Dahl uses lush colors and darkness to convey the emotion of the characters, particularly in the card rooms. The aspect ratio is 2.35:1 which is very clear and the transfer is seamless. The film itself has a very warm feel to it with the textured colors of the wardrobe and shady set design. The color contrasts are subtle, yet, interiors are overwhelmed with reds and rich browns. Shots that reflect this color contrast are Grama’s apartment, the chesterfield poker room and KGB’s poker room. The overall aesthetic of the film is quite well crafted and effectively aids the storytelling.
The Dolby Digital 5.1 surround does not offer too much. The sounds are very striking and the score does not overpower the dialogue. The sound presents itself quite well in the poker rooms, the chips riffling and table noise is exaggerated. Moreover, with having these poker room sounds come from behind creates a somewhat immersive experience. The surround is separated in a general way without being too distracting. The audio is not elaborate at all and compliments the tone quite well.
Feature Commentary Tracks: There are two commentary tracks that are offered with this collector’s edition. The first being a professional poker commentary with Chris “Jesus” Ferguson, Phil Hellmuth Jr, Johnny Chan and Chris Moneymaker. Chris Moneymaker attributed all of his poker interest to seeing this film. The pro’s present analysis of the hands throughout the film as well as some personal poker stories. Unfortunately, the conversations eventually become mundane and pointless.
The other commentary track features screenwriters David Levien and Brian Koppelman, Director John Dahl and actor Edward Norton. This commentary provides quite a bit of information about set design, location shooting and the casting process. Edward Norton’s contributions have comedic value and he points out each of his improvisations. This commentary is far superior to the previous one
There are a few features, some more rewarding than others.
Set-Top Game – “Heads Up Texas Hold ‘Em”: A poker game that offers some interesting trivia and gives novice players some practice. Overall, it is a slightly disappointing feature.
Behind-The-Scenes Special: Standard behind the scenes featurette that offers some good interviews and background knowledge of the actors and production team. Highlights are the interviews with the established cast. The entire featurette runs just over 5 mins.
Inside Professional Poker: This featurette provides interviews with professional poker players and sheds some light on the profession. It is an insightful look at poker and gives the viewer a lot of information about the “sport” and the World Series of Poker.
Champion Poker Tips: The professionals are back from the featurette to give poker fans the tips they need in order to become better poker players. The champions are the same from the professional poker commentary track with each offering 4 separate tips. The tips vary from 10 to 15 seconds which becomes redundant with the lack of a play all feature. All tips are quite generic and in general reasonably disappointing.
Rounders remains a pillar in the poker community. It separates itself from others in the sub-genre with relevant dialogue and structured characters. Where other poker films such as Shade or Finder’s Fee get lost in obscurity, Rounders provides an accessible entry in the devious poker underground and encourages you to play again.