Special Feature: Reevaluating ‘Rounders’

The chances are that many of you may not have seen John Dahl’s 1998 film Rounders, unless you’re either a fan of poker or its leading man Matt Damon (star of Steven Soderbergh’s soon-to-be released Behind the Candelabra, which screened this week at the 66th Cannes Film Festival). Damon starred as Mike McDermott, a law student and former poker player who is convinced to return to the game by his old friend, Worm (played by Edward Norton.) What ensues is a look into the underground world of poker in New York and New Jersey and what it takes to be a true rounder. Below are some of our reasons why Dahl’s Rounders is well worth a second look – or a first look for those yet to sample.

Insight into the mind of a poker player
Unlike most poker movies produced, viewers were actually privy to the actual thinking processes of the main character of Rounders. Poker was broken down into a game of strategy and psychology in a way that wasn’t done at any other point in cinema history. The mystery behind the game was explained away and for many viewers, this revelation would lead to them taking up the game on a more serious level.

Insight into the true world of poker
For the casual poker fan of the last decade, poker is all about Texas Hold’em. When Rounders was filmed, Texas Hold’em was a game that was primarily only played at the highest limits and by professional gamblers. It wasn’t until 2003 when Texas Hold’em exploded. Rounders allows viewers to see that poker is much more than Hold’em and that most poker players must be well rounded in order to be successful.

Classic lines
Rounders has a ton of classic lines that are not only quotable for fans of the movie, but have also become mantras of modern day poker players. Lines such as “In the poker game of life, women are the rake” and “It’s immoral to let a sucker keep his money” are now part of the poker vernacular and are all thanks to Rounders. In fact, Ac-9c is now known as the ‘Movie Star Hand‘ thanks to McDermott dubbing it as such in the film.

Well-written story that’s still the benchmark
When Brian Koppelman and David Levien wrote Rounders, they surely didn’t foresee their movie being the standard bearer for modern poker movies. However, a mix of excellent dialogue, a strong storyline, and great casting resulted in a film that directors are still trying to replicate.