Rounders (1998)

Rounders (1998)Rounders, directed by John Dahl and released in 1998, is a film about two individuals who are trying to quickly earn money by playing poker in order to repay a massive debt. Although the film received lukewarm reviews upon its release and only made a moderate amount of money, the recent popularity of poker games such as Texas Holdem has been largely responsible for turning the film into a cult classic.

Rounders revolves around a classic story of racing against the clock and achieving the seemingly impossible in order to save the day, while getting rich in the process.

Cast and Crew of Rounders

Rounders features an all-star cast, one of its many qualities that has earned it a lot of success among movie renters and movie buyers despite its lack of achievement at the box office. The cast is headed by Matt Damon (as Mike McDermott) and Edward Norton (Les "Worm" Murphy), highly respected actors who have been featured in several prominent films since the debut of Rounders.

John Turturro plays a fellow rounder in the role of Knish, and John Malkovich serves as Teddy KGB, a card shark. The supporting cast is rounded out by Gretchen Mol, Famke Janssen, and Martin Landau. Johnny Chan and Erik Seidel, poker professionals, make cameo appearances through a recording of their 1988 World Series of Poker Main Event showdown.

The music for Rounders was composed by Christopher Young, with cinematography and editing by Jean-Yves Escoffier and Scott Chestnut, respectfully. The film was produced by Ted Demme and Joel Stillerman, and written by David Levien and Brian Koppleman.

Plot Synopsis of Rounders

Rounders begins with Mike McDermott (Matt Damon) losing the entirety of his poker bankroll, a sum of $30,000, to Teddy KGB in a single Texas Holdem hand. Teddy KGB is a Russian mobster and owner of an illicit underground card room. Following the devastating loss, McDermott becomes determined to refocus his concentration on his law studies and ensures his girlfriend Jo (Gretchen Mol) that he has given up gambling. One of his poker friends, Knish (John Turturro) offers McDermott a job as a delivery driver in order to help pay the bills.

Mike begins to be lured back into the world of gambling when he makes a delivery to his professor, Petrovsky. Petrovsky is playing poker in a home game with various judges. After observing the game for a moment, Mike tells Petrovsky to make a large raise. The judges are confused, and ask McDermott why he would suggest a raise without knowing the contents of anyone’s hand. McDermott responds that if he can guess the contents of each player’s hand, he’d like a clerkship with one of the judges. Mike accomplishes the feat, and is put into consideration for the clerkship.

Later, Mike picks up his friend Les "Worm" Murphy, who is released from prison. Worm requests to be taken straight to a poker game and Mike complies and lends him $220. Mike drops him off at the game, and joins later, pretending that he doesn’t know Worm. They collaborate on the game, and win big. Jo is upset when Mike returns home, finding that he has returned to gambling.

Rounders begins to take shape when Mike begins to assist Worm in paying off his gambling debt that he accrued before entering prison, a debt of $25,000. The debt is owed to Grama, an associate of Teddy KGB. Ultimately, Jo is frustrated by Mike’s return to poker and decides to move out. Mike and Worm head for Atlantic City in order to play more poker.

Later, Mike’s friend Petra (Famke Janssen) informs him that he owes a debt to Teddy KGB, due to the fact that Worm has been borrowing money under Mike’s name. Mike and Worm decide to pay a visit to Grama and sort out the debt. Grama gives the two five days to pay back the remaining $15,000, a task which they accept. Mike decides to earn the money himself, prohibiting Worm from playing under the assumption that Worm will cheat. Mike begins to slowly earn the money, though he’s behind the pace needed to pay off the debt in time. The money is lost when Mike and Worm play in a game with off-duty police officers, who catch Worm cheating, beat up the duo, and take their cash.

Mike asks for a loan from Knish, though Knish refuses. Instead, he turns to Petrovsky, who loans him $10,000. Mike uses the money to play heads up against Teddy KGB and earn the money needed to pay off the debt. Mike quickly succeeds, earns the money needed for the debt, and gets up from the table. However, Teddy KGB convinces him to return.

Mike loses most of his chips, and is faced with a do-or-die situation on the final hand. Mike completes a straight, calls KBG’s all-in bet, and ultimately wins back his debt in addition to the $30,000 he lost at the beginning of the movie. Rounders ends with Mike leaving for Las Vegas to compete in the World Series of Poker.

Additional Notes on Rounders

Rounders eventually made $22.9 million in the US, moderate success. The film was shot starting in Decembery of 1997, mainly in New York and New Jersey. There is constant debate over whether Rounders supported the popularity of Texas Holdem or vice versa. It is a favorite among many professional poker players, including Vanessa Rousso.