Deal (2008)

Deal (2008)Deal is a poker drama released in 2008 by MGM Pictures in the US and Seven Arts Pictures internationally. The film follows the story of a former professional poker player giving instruction to a young player. Deal culminates at a fictionalized World Poker Tour. A number of professional poker players and poker commentators make cameo appearances in the film, including Vince Van Patten, Mike Sexton, Courtney Friel, Antonio Esfandiari, Phil Laak, Chris Moneymaker, Greg Raymer, and Isabelle Mercier.

Deal was promoted with the tagline "Know when to hold ‘em. Know when to fold ‘em. The game is on!"

Cast and Crew of Deal

Deal includes many acting veterans as well as up-and-coming actors. The film stars Burt Reynolds playing Tommy Vinson, Bret Harrison playing Alex Stillman, and poker player/actress Shannon Elizabeth playing Michelle.

The supporting cast includes Maria Mason as Helen Vinson, Charles Durning as Charlie Adler, Jennifer Tilly as Karen Jones, Gary Grubbs as Mr. Stillman, Caroline McKinley as Mrs. Stillman, Brandon Olive as Ben Thomas, John Eyez as Mike Jackson, and J.D. Evermore as Tex Burton.

Deal was directed by Gil Cates Jr. and produced by Michael Arata, Steve Austin, and Albert J. Satzer. Gil Cates Jr. and Mark Weinstock wrote the original screenplay for Deal. Peter Rafelson composed the musical score. Tom Harting and Jonathan Cates handled cinematography and editing, respectively.

Plot Synopsis for Deal

Deal begins by introducing Tommy Vinson, a professional gambler who retired from his Texas Hold’em career 30 years ago when he missed a family emergency and promised his wife, Helen, that he would never play competitive poker again. One day, while Tommy is struggling to be happy with his new career in the luggage industry, Tommy decides to watch a televised poker tournament. He sees a young player named Alex Stillman who reminds him of his former poker style. Alex is a senior at Yale, a cocky card shark, and the most capable player at the tournament. Although Alex’s parents are encouraging him to attend law school, Alex would prefer to make a career as a professional poker player, following in the footsteps of his TV idols.

Alex, who gained entry to the tournament by winning an online satellite tournament, faces an early elimination from the tournament. Tommy notices that Alex has an excellent understanding of the cards and the game itself, while failing to realize the importance of reading the other players at the table. Tommy finds Alex and makes him a deal: If Alex will agree to accept his instruction and play the way that Tommy tells him to, Tommy will pay for all of his entry fees in major tournaments. Alex is initially skeptical, but changes his mind and accepts the deal when the two watch a poker game and Tommy makes the right calls.

Alex’s parents are dismayed to learn that Alex will be Tommy’s protégé, effectively ensuring that Alex won’t be attending law school. Meanwhile, Tommy’s wife Helen is fearful that Tommy’s renewed interest in the game will lead to Tommy reentering the world of poker and breaking the promise he made 30 years previous. Tommy ensures Helen that this won’t happen, and that Alex will be the only member of the partnership actually playing poker.

As Deal continues, it becomes clear that Tommy’s increasing interest in the game will lead him to play again. Tommy arranges for Alex to meet a Las Vegas call girl, and the two have a disagreement that weakens their friendship. Finally, Tommy and Alex face off against each other in a major poker tournament, bringing Deal to a dramatic conclusion.

Critical Reception for Deal

Unfortunately, Deal was met with almost universally unfavorable reviews. Critics cite weak acting performances, by-the-numbers directing, a derivative story, a lack of complexity, and dull action as the film’s most significant flaws. Erik Childress, writing for eFilmCritic.com, said that Deal may be the worst film about poker of all time. Richard Roeper is quoted as saying "They’ve got to do something else with these poker movies." Michael Rechtshaffen from Hollywood Reporter said that "Success isn’t in the cards for this plodding poker drama."

The film received a single positive review from Andrew L. Urban for Urban Cinefile, who said that Deal was more interesting than several recent sports movies.

Currently, the film has a rating of only 3% on Rotten Tomatoes, an internet meta-review site. Consumer reviews have been significantly more positive, with a 5.3 out of 10 rating standing on the Internet Movie Database, including nearly 2,300 reviews.

Additional Information about Deal

Deal can only be considered a commercial flop. The film has a budget of over five million dollars, and has only grossed $61,626 in the US and $78,731 worldwide. Deal spent two weeks in 51 theaters before being moved to DVD.

A large portion of Deal’s budget was spent shipping the 2003 World Poker Tour set to New Orleans during production.

Actor Charles Durning made his filmic breakthrough in another poker movie, The Sting, in 1973.

Deal is currently available on DVD.