1998 poker movie

Rating: 16/20

Plot: A law student quits playing poker after John Malkovich takes all of his money. When an old friend just released from prison gets into a little trouble because of some gambling debts, the law student has to get back in the game to help him.

What's with that poster? I'm not sure any of the actors look exactly like their characters in this movie. It's almost like they photoshopped them all in there or cut and pasted them from other movie posters.

I love this movie and have seen it several times. It's a movie that inspired me to start playing cards, and even though it's obviously movie poker that they're all playing, it's still the most realistic Hollywood poker I've ever seen although The Cincinnati Kid ain't bad. When I saw this the first time, I loved the sleazy underbelly that these characters wallowed in, and I also loved Damon's narration, surprisingly since I don't usually like narration outside of the noir genre. I'm not sure if this movie is quoted way too often or if the screenwriter just lifted from a book of poker cliches, but the narration really helps the uninitiated understand the game.

An aside: I remember playing poker at a guy's house once, and this 20-something named Shawn strolled in with a bag of fast food. "Boys," he announced as he stacked his chips, "you better watch out. I watched Rounders today." From the right mouth, that would have been kind of funny, but Shawn was being completely serious. And then he lost something like 40 bucks.

Look at that cast! Damon's great even though I don't always like how his mouth looks in this movie. It kind of looks like it does in all of his movies. It's that one expression he makes, like tortured acceptance or something. You know the one. John Turturro is used just enough, but like a lot of his smaller roles, you almost wouldn't mind seeing a movie made with his character as the protagonist. Loved his answer and subtle shrug when answering a "How have you been?" question. Edward Norton is fantastic. There's a physicality here that is just perfect, even the way he eats a hot dog. He's just so good at creating this slimy character. "Depends on the grip" is such a great line, and his first scene where he's gambling with cigarettes in his waning moments at the prison really tell you all you need to know about the character. Martin Landau's also really good as a judge. And then there's John Malkovich, playing a fucking Russian. I'm not sure if his accent is terrible or spot-on, but I don't really care. I just know you don't want to touch his cookies. There's a note on them and everything! "Just like a young man coming in for a qvuickies." "I am still up 20 grand from the last time I stick it in you." (That one with a really awkward pelvic thrust which is my current favorite movie scene ever.) "Mr. son ov a beech, let's play some cards." "In my club, I will splash the pot whenever the fuck I please." Oh, he's just so perfect.


Josh said...

Yeah, this is in my Top 20 for sure. You'd think it would be sleepy, but I think there is well-plotted out suspense and "action." The story is a driving force to that. The characters are great, and the actors playing them are even better. Landau is such a gentle giant. He could be so powerful as an actor, but his softness and approachability give the character so much more. I really like "the poker group;" their costumes, mannerisms, dialogue are so believable. Of course, the highlight is Malkovich. I trust his accent as he's lived in Europe for almost 20 years and has a knack for taking characters to the next level. The story is almost Goodfellas-esque. It romanticizes and demonizes gambling and cards in the same breath. It takes what people think they know and lets them fall in love with it and lets it burn them. I just love movies that make you hate to love the subject...

Shane said...

Wow! A top-20 movie? It wouldn't be for me, but it's definitely a movie I really like and behind just Lebowski and a few Pixar movies as the movie I've watched the most times in the last 10-15 years. Probably tied with 'The Room' actually.

I like what you said about romanticizing and demonizing the subject matter. You're right about that. The gambling does pull you in, makes it seems like a grand adventure and a way to be a hero and something nearly poetic. At the same time, there are all the negatives.

Malkovich. Man, I love him in this thing. I don't know how realistic that accent is, but it doesn't even matter to me. He just creates this character that is impossible to forget.