Rounders DVD

Set in dark, smoky rooms bathed in harsh flourescent and neon lights, “Rounders” is a somber, moody character study. It’s about good people who have bad habits, and how their compulsive behavior dictates their destiny.


“Rounders” reminded me of some really great 1970’s movies like “Klute” and “Taxi Driver.” Jean Tyes Escoffier’s evocative photography, Christopher Young’s jazzy score and Rob Pearson’s simple yet effective production design all have a retro look or feel. roundersIt’s about gambling and gamblers. More specifically, it’s about people who play cards. Poker. They don’t just play poker, they live poker. To them, it’s not a game but an existence. It makes them feel alive. These denizens of the deck will play anywhere and everywhere, from country clubs to frat houses. Mostly they play in small, dark, out-of-the-way clubs run by people like Teddy KGB (John Malkovich), who runs the best game in town. As “Rounders” begins, law student Mike McDermott (Matt Damon) is about to make the biggest mistake of his life. After beating a world champion poker player in New Jersey, Mike thinks he’s ready to take on the big boys at Teddy’s. He’s so sure of his skill that he puts up his entire life’s savings. You know how that game ends. Flash forward nine months, and McDermott is still trying to get ahead. Only this time, it’s not at the table but at school and with his girlfriend, Jo (Gretchen Mol). McDermott has vowed to stay away from the cards, but plans to use his keen poker instincts to use in the courtroom. He’s good at reading other people. Now if he can just stop and take a look at his own life. McDermott’s life goes into tailspin when he picks up best bud Worm (Edward Norton) from prison. McDermott and Worm share a bond as strong as brothers, which explains McDermott’s willingness to jump back into the game when Worm begs him. McDermott is the cool and calculated one. Worm likes to go in for the kill, and isn’t afraid to deal the cards in their favor. Separately they’re a threat, together they’re trouble. That’s exactly what Worm immediately gets in to. It seems before he went off to the pen, he owed Teddy a lot of money. Now that Worm is out of prison, it’s pay day, and guess who doesn’t have a cent? Worm turns to McDermott for help, which he reluctantly offers. It’s a turning point in McDermott and Jo’s life. She doesn’t blame the gambler, she blames the gambling. It doesn’t take long before McDermott is also in debt to Teddy. How the two men resolve their dilemma is engagingly executed in a script that sounds as smart as it plays. “Rounders” isn’t a movie about poker, but about poker faces. It’s about man’s ability to not only fool another player, but to fool himself as well. McDermott refuses to admit that he has a “gambling” problem. In his eyes, it has nothing to do with luck. It’s a skill. He may be able to bluff his way through a game, but he has a hard time bluffing his way through a relationship and law school. Matt Damon is having a good year. “Good Will Hunting,” “Saving Private Ryan,” and now “Rounders.” It’s Damon’s movie, and he’s tremendous. Dahl frames Damon in those glorious 40-foot high close-ups that allow us to look into the eyes and soul of this character. Damon makes McDermott likeable yet flawed. I especially liked Edward Norton’s Worm, the type of character who raises red flags where ever he goes. You can understand McDermott’s loyalty to Worm, but you just know he’s bad news. It’s a credit to Norton’s ability as an actor that I wanted to crawl up on the screen and slap the crap out of him. Mol, who has enjoyed a spotty yet interesting career thus far, shines as the understanding Jo. There would have been so many ways to play Jo, and yet Mol really zones in on the character’s strengths and weaknesses. You really feel for her when she gets lost in the shuffle. Dahl and the writers populate the film with colorful background characters. Martin Landau is a standout as a judge and professor who sees greatness in McDermott, even if it’s not in the courtroom. He’s the voice of reason in the film, and Landau as usual makes him memorable. John Malkovich, hiding behind a Russian accent, seems to have a lot of fun as the notorious Teddy. John Turturro also has some nice moments as the Russian friend of McDermott’s who is willing to do anything for him except support his gambling. It’s easy to appreciate a film that’s smart. There’s a lot of poker jargon in “Rounders.” Some of it is explained, some of it is not. Yet the script never plays dumb. It’s not important that you don’t know this stuff. By the end of the film you will. I love poker movies (“Big Hand for a Little Lady” immediately comes to mind), and “Rounders” is one of the best. Filled with memorable characters who have something to say, “Rounders” won’t soon fade from memory.

COMPLETE CHECK-UP

VISION: [ X ] 20/20 [ ] Good [ ] Cataracts [ ] Blind

All of director John Dahl’s films are set in dark, moody places, and the smoky card parlors and private backrooms of “Rounders” is no exception. The film’s intricate, almost delicate lighting is preserved with respect in the digital transfer. Delivered in the film’s original 2.35:1 widescreen ratio, the transfer is clean and crisp, with exceptional detail and impenetrable blacks and strong shadows. The colors are warm and muted, but the saturation is pure with no obvious bleeding or fading. Flesh tones are handsome to the point of perfection, while the depth-of-field is strong. Excellent mastering eliminates any trouble spots, with no obvious digital compression artifacts or pixelation. What you get is a gorgeous widescreen picture that borders on film noir.

HEARING: [ X ] Excellent [ ] Minor Hearing Loss [ ] Needs Hearing Aid [ ] Deaf

Dialogue plays an integral part in “Rounders,” and the dialogue mix is superior on all counts. Strong and front and center, the dialogue mix never skips or misses a beat. The sound is rich and full, with subtle low basses and striking middle and high ends that are completely free of any distortion. 5.1 Dolby Digital Surround track is very complimentary, delivering impressive stereo separation and intricate ambient noise that is effective and realistic. The spatial split isn’t high end, but there is distinct separation. The musical score sweeps through every speakers with a clarity that is extremely pleasing.

ORAL: [ ] Excellent [ X ] Good [ ] Poor

Closed captions for the hard of hearing.

COORDINATION: [ ] Excellent [ ] Good [ X ] Clumsy [ ] Weak

Say hello to the original theatrical trailer, handsome yet standard issue main and scene access menus, and some alternate title suggestions.

PROGNOSIS: [ X ] Excellent [ ] Fit [ ] Will Live [ ] Resuscitate [ ] Terminal

There’s no gamble here. If you’re a fan of smart, intelligent and through-provoking fare, then you can’t go wrong with director John Dahl’s powerful and evoking drama.

VITALS: $29.99/Rated R/121 Minutes/Color/28 Chapter Stops/Keepcase/#16449

ATTENDING RESIDENT: John Larsen

PATIENT: ROUNDERS

BIRTH DATE: 1998

HMO: Miramax Home Entertainment



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