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  • Writer's pictureJames Rutherford

'Rounders': An Entertaining 90's-Era Drama Set Within the High-Stakes World of Underground Gambling

Movie poster for the film Rounders starring Matt Damon and Edward Norton

"Rounders" (1998) is a late 90's-era drama starring Matt Damon as Mike McDermott, a law student and former high-stakes poker player who is forced back into the game in order to help his newly-paroled best friend Lester "Worm" Murphy (Edward Norton) pay off overwhelming gambling debts.

Originally losing his entire $30,000 bankroll to Russian mobster "Teddy KGB" (John Malkovich) in an underground match of Texas Hold'em, Mike has since gone straight and promised his girlfriend Jo (Gretchen Mol) to abstain from the game forever. The deceitful Worm's reemergence onto the scene, however, brings undue complications--particularly his $25,000 debt to a vicious pimp named Grama (Michael Rispoli) that tests Mike's loyalty to his shady yet committed comrade. Their renewed partnership quickly finds them re-immersed in the dangerous world of underground gambling, as Mike once again finds himself on a collision course with the formidable and unnerving Teddy KGB.

"Rounders" is an engaging and enjoyable insider’s look into the world of high stakes gambling, providing the viewer with compelling insight into the game in terms of strategy as well as human psychology. Damon and Norton are strikingly well-cast in their roles—Norton particularly good as the sleazy and manipulative Worm, whose mere presence sets the story's course of action in motion. It's not overly-surprising in its storytelling but it is highly enjoyable from beginning to end, and will appeal to fans of gambling and sports films, as well as those who enjoy modern film noir with a sharp dramatic edge.


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