September 11, 1998. I ain't scared of no flood. Frances was just a little 'ole TD - wasn't no 'cane, so you water wussies quit trying to play the rain card and get out on the street and watch a good movie. Ok, so this is not the Ken Starr report, but at least its only rated "R". Theatre #17 Loew's- about 80-90 folks at a noon showing. Matt Damon is a big star with mega box office quality. As the movie starts I am drinking a big Dr. Pepper and eating buttered popcorn with one hand and chocolate covered almonds with the other. I was wound a little tight for this one.
"Rounders" is about the game of poker/Texas Hold 'Em and the characters that make up the players. We get to know these players and most importantly their defects which are painful. Damon stars as Mike McDermott and serves as a part-time narrator and explains to us before the title of the movie "... that after a half hour, if you have not figured out who the sucker is, then its probably you." What a great line! McDermott is in law school paid for by his gambling money and is living with classmate Jo (Gretchen Mol) who is not too happy with the boy's obsessive behavior, but Mike is trying to give up gambling and playing cards even though he emphasizes that "... its not about luck" - its about odds and knowing when to fold a hand and walk away. Mike's old high school buddy "Worm" (Edward Norton) is getting out of prison for fixing a basketball game which involved Mike, but Worm did not rat him out which is the good news and the bad news for Mike. Trying to return this favor with loyalty is playing with fire when dealing with the hapless, loser Worm. I found myself wanting to scream out to Mike - "Hey, Mike, why do you think they call him Worm?" already. Mike and Worm win some and lose some and sometimes do not know when to fold em. Worm owes $15,000.00 to the local Mafia wannabe. The enforcer is named "Grama" who leans on the boys to make payment in five days or else. Grama's boss is Teddy KGB. I give high marks for the name alone. Teddy is a Russian goon that also is a top player in the "clubs" in the New York City area. Teddy has his own club and is superbly played by John Malkovich even though one would not mistake his accent for a real Ruskie. We learn in this movie that professional players do not think and act like you and me and can "read" the tourist player by watching for "tells" which reveals the cards held by the unschooled by knowing what the casual touch of the cards or hand over the mouth really means. Or the obvious check-raise by the rookie who is trying to finesse the big boys and is merely falling into their trap.
Before going to this movie I interviewed my semi-professional poker playing brother, Hold 'Em Harrison. We agreed that the all time greatest poker playing movie was "The Cincinnati Kid" starring Edward G. Robinson and Steve McQueen. "Rounders" will at least cause an argument among players when discussing this subject. You poker players will be glad to see that Johnny Chan, former winner of the million dollar World Series of Poker in Las Vegas, is given a revered role in this flick.
Damon carries this movie. The boy is hot. Don't forget that in December of '97 we first saw "Good Will Hunting" and only a few weeks ago we saw him play the title role in "Saving Private Ryan." His Mike McDermott is played with ease by what now appears to be a veteran actor who is not yet 30. I think he needs an agent from Sugar Land. Rock 'n Roll.