On This Page

Rounders Movie Review

Mike McDermott was a natural when it came to poker. Not only did he have the rules memorized to a t, but he also knew how to analyze his opponents’ tells to find out what cards they had in their hand.

He was extremely talented but his confidence quickly got the best of him and at the beginning of the movie we see him lose his entire life savings to a man named Teddy KGB.

Although retiring from poker seemed like the best option for him at the moment, Mike quickly discovers that leaving his old lifestyle behind isn’t as easy as he hoped it would be.

His girlfriend, Jo, encourages him to avoid playing cards and focus on obtaining his law degree instead. Everything seems to be going according to plan until his old partner, Worm, gets out of prison and is eager to pick up where they left off.

Worm owes a lot of money to the wrong people and Mike feels obligated to help him win it back, even if that means losing his girlfriend and giving up on school in the process.

Mike will be forced to face his fears, again finding himself in a head to head match again the man who took all of his money.

Will Mike come out on top this time or

will he let his fear of losing keep him from playing the game?

About the Movie

  • Director: John Dahl
  • Editor: Scott Chestnut
  • Genre: Crime, Drama
  • Length: 121 minutes
  • Music: Christopher Young
  • Script Writers: David Levien & Brian Koppelman
  • Release Year: 1998

The Cast

Matt Damon as Mike McDermott

Matthew Paige Damon was born on October 8th, 1970 in Boston, Massachusetts. His father was a stock broker, while his mother was an early childhood education professor at Lesley University.

Damon participated in numerous theatrical performances while attending Cambridge Rindge and Latin School. After graduating, he enrolled at Harvard University to pursue a degree in English.

He found himself skipping classes too often to audition for any role he could.

Before he knew it he was landing small roles in movies left and right, eventually deciding to drop out of school to focus on a career in acting instead.

He moved to Hollywood and slowly but surely started to get roles in more well known movies.

He’s most famous for his performances in Good Will Hunting (1997), Saving Private Ryan (1998), The Bourne Identity (2002), and The Departed (2006).

By the time he starred in Rounders, he was already an established actor and some people watched the movie simply because they were fans of his work.

Matt Damon not only is an excellent actor, but he’s also a very talented screenplay writer. He actually won an Oscar for Best Writing thanks to his work in Good Will Hunting.

Other major awards he has received over the years include an American Cinematheque Award, a Blockbuster Entertainment Award, a Critics Choice Award, and a Golden Globe award.

More recently he has been working on Downsizing, The Great Wall, Jason Bourne, and Suburbicon. All of these movies will come to theaters sometime in 2016 or 2017. Even as Matt Damon gets older, he still manages to get a plethora of job offers and we don’t see his career slowing down anytime soon.

Edward Norton as Worm

Edward Harrison Norton was born on August 18th, 1969, in Boston, Massachusetts to a middle class family. His mother was an English Teacher and his father was an Environmental Lawyer.

He had been interested in acting from a very young age, spending his youth in various acting schools.

In the midst of his acting career, Edward worked hard to graduate from Yale with a degree in History because he values the importance of having a good education.

Today he’s a very accomplished actor, having starred in a variety of films including American History X (1998), Fight Club (1999), The Illusionists (2006), and The Incredible Hulk (2008) to name some of the more popular ones.

Although Rounders wasn’t the most well-known movie he’s starred in, we were definitely impressed with how well he was able to portray his character in the film.

We aren’t the only ones who have recognized his talents, as he has been awarded several different accolades for his many performances.

Most impressively he has won a Golden Globe for Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role in 1996 for his role in Primal Fear. He has also won a Chicago Film Critics Association award, a Detroit Film Critic Society award, and a Gotham Award.

More recently Norton has been working on Sausage Party and Untitled Wes Anderson Project, which should both come out sometime in 2016. Norton is known for being a versatile actor who is quickly able to take on the role of any character set before him. We look forward to seeing what opportunities Norton is offered in the future.

Gretchen Mol as Jo

Gretchen Mol was born on November 8th, 1972, in Deep River, Connecticut. She got her first taste for acting when she performed in her high school theater program.

Desperate to become an actress, she begged her parents for the opportunity to enroll at the American Musical and Dramatic Academy where she could focus her studies on acting and music.

The tuition there was very pricey, so to make money on the side she accepted a few different modeling jobs and could often be found on the cover of various New York City magazines.

Now she’s well known for her roles in Donnie Brasco (1997), Rounders (1998), The Thirteenth Floor (1999), and 3:10 to Yuma (2007). She also is often recognized for playing Gillian Darmody in Boardwalk Empire.

The entire cast was awarded a Screen Actors Guild Award for Outstanding Performance by an Ensemble in a Drama Series in 2010. Continue to watch out for Mol in the upcoming movie Manchester by the Sea, which should come out towards the beginning of 2016.

Supporting Actors/ Actresses:

  • John Turturro as Joey Knish
  • John Malkovich as Teddy KGB
  • Michael Rispoli as Grama

Brief Bio on John Dahl (Director)

John Dahl was born in Billings, Montana in 1956. After watching A Clockwork Orange, when he was seventeen, he knew he wanted to be involved in the filming industry.

He eventually would attend and graduate from Montana State University’s School of Film and Photography. Continuing on with his education, he would later attend American Film Institute Conservatory.

The first major film he directed was Kill Me Again in 1989.

He went on to direct several other popular movies including Unforgettable (1996), Rounders (1998), Joy Ride (2001), The Great Raid (2005), and You Kill Me (2007).

He has also directed select episodes of some very popular television series including Breaking Bad, Hannibal, Shameless, and True Blood among others.

What It Is Rated and Why

This movie is rated R for a myriad of reasons, with the number one reason being exposure to sex and nudity. There are several scenes that take place in strip clubs where women’s breasts are completely exposed.

There’s even one scene where a man’s penis is visible for a few seconds and oral sex is implied.

In addition to sex and nudity, this movie contains a good amount of vulgar language with nearly 140 uses of the word “fuck” alone. Although the violence in this movie isn’t awful, there are some bloody fight scenes that some people may find offensive.

Last but not least, there are several scenes where the main characters are drinking alcohol or smoking a cigar.

It’s safe to say that this movie isn’t suitable for children, but instead is more appropriate for mature adults.

Character Analysis

Mike McDermott

Even though it’s clear that Mike is addicted to gambling, we definitely would consider him to be the protagonist. He may not always make the best decisions, but we are always left wanting him to succeed.

Throughout the entire movie we watch Mike grow, as he discovers what his true calling in life is. Although his life may take some unexpected turns, he truly is at peace with everything by the end of the film.

Jo

In the beginning of this film, we see Jo’s love and concern for her boyfriend, Mike. It’s clear that she really wants what is best for him, and it’s was hard for her to watch him struggle.

As Mike’s situation worsens and as he starts to shut her out of his life, we see Jo back away. She still cares about him, but she clearly sees that what she thought was best for him may not be what he actually needs.

Worm

Worm is a mischievous liar who will do whatever it takes to get ahead. He throws Mike into tough situations several times and he seems to only ever be looking out for himself; yet there’s still something about him that makes you feel bad for him.

Maybe it’s the misunderstood quality about him, or maybe it’s that his life only ever seems to get worse. With that being said, he is pretty static throughout the entire film, and he never seems to learn from his mistakes.

Summary of the Movie

The movie starts off as a flashback where we are introduced to the main character, Mike McDermott, a skilled poker player who is trying to earn his college tuition through playing poker on the streets.

Taking his entire life savings of $30,000, he competes against a member of the Russian Mob, KGB, in a friendly game of No Limit Texas Hold’em. Although Mike’s cards are good, KGB’s cards are better. Mike ends up losing all of his money in a matter of seconds.

We then flash forward to present time where Mike is living with the consequences of his past mistakes. Now to support himself through law school, he has to work long hours for a trucking company.

He’s still living with his girlfriend, Jo, who will do whatever it takes to make sure he doesn’t resort to playing poker again.

Earlier than expected, Mike gets to pick up his friend, Worm, from prison. Meeting Worm for the first time is a very interesting experience, but we instantly can tell that he’s going to cause problems.

Right from the moment he gets into the car, he is eager to play poker again and is very disappointed when he finds out that Mike hasn’t been playing while he was away.

Worm pressures Mike into playing poker with him that night, and they manage to walk away with a combined total of $1200. Mike loves the rush he feels from playing poker again, but feels guilty about lying to Jo about his whereabouts the next morning.

Mike soon finds out that Worm owes $15,000 to a man named Grama, and he’s torn about whether or not to continue playing to help him get out of debt.

The Climax

The more time Mike spends playing poker, the more he essentially has to give up. His grades are suffering and his relationship with Jo is strained, but his love for the game and his determination to help his friend makes him unable to stop.

Luckily Professor Petrovsky gives him some valuable advice, relaying to him that he can’t fight who he really is.

The only problem is, Mike is still trying to find out who that is.

Upon seeing that Jo moved out of their apartment, Mike packs his bags and heads to the Taj Mahal in Atlantic City with Worm. They run into Joey Knish and several other poker greats who they enjoy playing alongside.

Mike loves his experiences there, but is still unsure about what his future will behold.

Worm informs Mike that his debt is a more serious problem than he realized, as he actually owes $15,000 to KGB and he has only five days to pay it off.

The two boys go into panic mode, spending every waking minute playing poker until they raise enough money to pay off their debt. They eventually travel to Binghamton, NY where Mike is able to earn over $8,000 by utilizing his poker skills.

Against Mike’s wishes, Worm comes in and starts winning money by stacking the deck in Mike’s favor. Once their opponents realize they are being cheating, they are beaten and stripped of every last penny they have. Now they have no money, and their debt must be paid by the following night at the latest.

The End Result

Worm chooses to run away from the situation, but Mike is desperate to make things right. He tries borrowing money from Joey Knish, who politely declines his wish. Professor Petrovsky is actually the only person who willingly is able to loan Mike $10,000.

Still $5,000 short, Mike decides to play against KGB once again to see if he can win back the remainder of his debt.

The game scene between KGB and Mike is very intense, as they are both excellent players. Luckily this time it is Mike who comes out ahead, winning $20,000 in total. This would be enough to pay off Worm’s debt, while having $5,000 extra to pay off his professor.

He was just about to walk away when KGB taunted him about giving him a re-match.

Unable to walk away, Mike plays KGB again; everything is on the line this time.

After another intense playing scene, we hold our breath while we wait to see who gets to take home the entire pot. As it turns out, luck was finally on Mike’s side again and this time he walks away with nearly $60,000.

Not only is he able to pay off all of his past debts, but he actually gets to walk away with all the money he lost to KGB a few months back too.

Mikes decides to skip town, as he’s headed to Las Vegas in hopes to follow his dreams of competing in the World Series of Poker. Before he goes, he gets the closure he needs by saying goodbye to Jo, and they both surprisingly seem at peace with how everything turned out.

Our Favorite Quotes from the Movie

Mike McDermott says this at the beginning of the movie,

“Listen, here’s the thing. If you can’t spot the sucker in your first half hour at the table, then you ARE the sucker.”

This is one of this film’s most popular quotes, and it’s often repeated during conversation at the poker tables today. Although it’s one of the more lighthearted things said by Mike, we enjoy it because there’s some truth to it and it actually foreshadows many of the future events in the film.

Mike McDermott:

“If you had it to do all over again, knowing what would happen, would you make the same choice?”

Professor Petrovsky:

“What choice?”

This conversation is taking place after Professor Petrovsky explains that before he became a professor, he was on the fast track to becoming a Rabi.

Although he was very smart and many of the skills required of a Rabi came naturally to him, he knew in his heart that it wasn’t his calling. This is a very pivotal point in the movie where Mike starts to realize that becoming a lawyer isn’t his destiny, just like becoming a Rabi wasn’t his professors.

Mike McDermott says this towards the middle of the movie,

“Why do you think the same five guys make it to the final table of the World Series of Poker EVERY YEAR? What, are they the luckiest guys in Las Vegas?”

This quote really captures the message this movie is trying to get across. People believe that poker is a game of chance, but Mike strongly advocates that poker is a game of skill. Those who practice and are skilled will find consistent success at the tables; this is shown throughout the movie.

What Others Are Saying

A Film Canon once said,

“Filmed poker can sometimes make you reach for the remote, but Rounders reminds you that it’s really one of the most cinephilic of sports, a sport lived, breathed and apprehended in close-up, especially when it’s shot as atmospherically and suspensefully as it is here.”

IMBd gave this film 7.4 out of 10 stars and one of its reviewers summed it up nicely by saying,

“Rounders may be short on originality, but it’s long on suspense, action, and entertainment and while not the best flick to come down the pike, it’s a wonderfully satisfying two hours. I don’t know much about the game of poker, but I sure do know a good movie when I see one.”

The New York Times says,

“Although John Dahl’s “Rounders” finally adds up to less than meets the eye, what does meet the eye (and ear) is mischievously entertaining…Dahl’s film has character in oversupply even if its actual characters are sometimes thin. Poker fever makes up for whatever the story lacks in everyday emotions.”

Reel Talk gave this movie three stars and said,

“Avid poker players might enjoy this movie. No doubt they would understand terminology that comes across like a foreign language to others. They might also appreciate the slow-moving card game sequences. However, putting all my cards on the table, I found Rounders too dark and violent — and with too little humor to balance out its heavy drama.”

Our Rating and Why We Recommend It

4 Out of 5 Stars

4 Star Rating

Watching this movie was a very exhilarating experience. As people who truly appreciate the game of poker, it was easy for us to fall in love with this film. The first element of this movie that really jumped out to us was the wonderful cast that Director, John Dahl, hand selected.

Matt Damon does a phenomenal job of taking on the role of Mike McDermott, the protagonist of the film, whose love of poker dictates his whole life.

His unlovable friend, Worm, is played by the very talented Edward Norton, who somehow manages to take on the role of a low-life so flawlessly. Other actors/ actresses who were able to submerge into their respective roles with ease were Gretchen Mol, John Malkovich, and John Turturro.

There are no dull moments in this film, as the scenes are packed full of eloquent drama. Even those who have no interest in poker will agree that this movie is far from boring. We also loved the element of surprise this film had when it came to the ending.

As suspected he beat KGB and won all of his money back, but the rest of the ending was not so easily predictable.

We were amazed to discover that Mike drops out of school and he and Jo are content with just being friends. Although Mike is free from debt and has money to spare, he ultimately ends up alone. The ending doesn’t even hint towards him running into Worm again.

With all the wonderful things we have mentioned about this film, you may be wondering why it only received 4 out of 5 stars. For starters, we can’t overlook the lack of connection we feel with the characters.

This is not by any means a fault in the casting, but instead is a fault in which the film was structured. We get introduced to so many characters in such a short amount of time that it’s hard for us to connect with all of them on the deeper level we usually strive for.

Another complaint we often hear about in this film is that it’s filled with terminology that only a seasoned poker player would comprehend.

Although we admit that we didn’t run into any problems when it came to the language used, we do see where someone who has never played the game before would run into issues.

Overall, we would certainly recommend taking two hours out of your day to watch this movie.

Although it may not be the best film you have ever seen, it will undoubtedly be worth your time.

Poker players will especially be able to relate to the main character, and will be able to have a deeper connection to him and the obstacles he must overcome.