A consistently intelligent (or at least bright), coherently constructed comedy that is on occasion a rather pointed critique of the American education system in the…
"Rounders" cheerfully buys into compulsive gambling. The hero gambles away his tuition money, his girlfriend, his law degree and nearly his life, and at the end he's still a happy gambler. If this movie were about alcoholism, the hero would regain consciousness after the DTs and order another double. Most gambling movies are dire warnings; this one is a recruiting poster.
I think that's because the movie would rather recycle the "Rocky" genre than end on a sour note. It stars Matt Damon as a New York law student who is a truly gifted poker player, and since the movie ends with a big game you somehow kinda know he's not going to lose it. Since the genre insists on a victory at the end, the movie has to be in favor of poker; you don't see Rocky deciding to retire because of brain damage.
As a poker movie, it's knowledgeable and entertaining. And as a mediocre player who hits the poker room at the Mirage a couple of times a year and has read a fair share of books about the World Series of Poker, I enjoyed it. It takes place within the pro poker underground of New York and Atlantic City, where everybody knows the big games and the key players. And it shows brash, clean-cut young Mike McDermott (Damon) venturing into the world of cutthroats like Teddy KGB (John Malkovich), the poker genius of the Russian-American mob.
Mike is a law student, living with fellow student Jo (Gretchen Mol). As the movie opens, he gathers his entire stake of $30,000 and loses it to Teddy KGB. Jo has been trying to talk him into quitting poker, and he promises to reform. But the next day his best friend Worm (Edward Norton) gets out of prison, and of course he has to meet him at the prison gates, and of course that leads to a poker game that night, and to an escalating and dangerous series of problems.