roundersGrade (A-)

A solid film that displays a couple great performances from Matt Damon and Edward Norton.

“Rounders” starred; Matt Damon, as well as Edward Norton, John Malkovich, John Turturro, Martin Landau and was directed by John Dahl. That’s a lot of John’s…

This was simple story, you have a former gambler that thrived in the world of underground poker. He’s trying to live a straight-forward life, he’s in law school, and has a beautiful girlfriend. But still feels like something is missing in his life. When his childhood friend gets out of prison and racks up some debt to dangerous loan sharks, this guy must go back to playing cards to help him out of a jam.

Like I said this film came out in 1998 and Matt Damon was blowing up. 1997 was a great year for Damon. He came out in Frances Ford Copolla’s “The Rainmaker” alongside Danny DeVito. As well as blew the world away in “Good Will Hunting” alongside Robin Williams, and ended up receiving an Academy Award with Ben Affleck for the screenplay of that film.

This was the first true-leading role for Damon, without a veteran performer by his side, and it proved Damon could carry the lead in a film. Edward Norton was also great in this one as Damon’s childhood friend. They created a believable chemistry that truly made them feel like two life-long friends whose lives took them on slightly different paths.

© Miramax

There was an excellent supporting cast in this one as well. John Malkovich was perfect in the role of loan-shark Teddy KGB who runs the underground card house. He was both comical, intimidating, and overall just excellent in this role. He helped create some compelling scenes playing cards with Damon’s character as well. John Turturro was also great, his character had a much smaller imprint on this script, but he stole every scene he was in.

I also really enjoyed the performance of Martin Landau as the aged law professor who could see the potential in Damon’s character. All of these guys had some compelling moments over the course of the story, with varying levels of great acting put on display. I think these characters who all had different personalities, showed Damon’s range in being able to create a unique chemistry with each of there character dynamics.

The fear and intrigue of beating Teddy KGB, looking to Turturro’s character for wisdom in the game of underground cards, looking to Landau’s character for wisdom to the game of life. And most importantly the big brother frustrations of dealing with a lifelong friend that seems to always find himself in trouble. Damon captured all these dynamics with a smooth flow throughout this film, and to me make this one of his great performances.

© Miramax

Edward Norton was awesome in this movie as the prototypical ‘guy who finds trouble’ but he did clearly pull the material to a much higher level. His character was a little routine for the genre as was his relationship with Damon’s character. But with two amazing actors on the rise, Damon and Norton create some compelling scenes between one another. With excellent timing and flow between them, they deliver something two lesser actors could not have, with the same script.

On the downside, the pacing was a little slow at times, there were some lulls in the second-act, and it could have been cleaned up a bit to keep things moving. The relationship between the characters played by Damon and Norton was a little underdeveloped, but with their performances it doesn’t hinder the film too much. It just keeps this as being a movie you really only go back to watch for the cast, and not the story itself.

Overall though “Rounders” has a strong re-watch value every handful of years and I definitely recommend this film to anyone who is a fan of Damon, Norton or Malkovich. They all have their moments and all put the effort in to make this a very good movie and one of my favorite Matt Damon films.