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Starring Matt Damon and Edward Norton;
John Malkovich, John Turturro, Gretchen Mol and Martin Landau
Screenplay by David Levien & Brian Koppelman
Directed by John Dahl
Website: www.miramax.com

IN SHORT: A Royal Flush.

For those of you that don't get the stack of press notes that we reviewers do, here's the inside scoop. Included with the materials for Rounders is a glossary of card-player terms, 'cuz the dialog is heavy with 'em. It was a totally unnecessary inclusion, as the screenplay by David Levien & Brian Koppelman is so well written that you pick up the essentials in the first few minutes.

There are the good jobs and the bad jobs. Then there are the jobs that most people don't consider jobs at all. Somewhere in an underworld of speakeasy like clubs is a society of hard core poker players. Big money players, who would take you to the cleaners without sucking down an extra breath. Mike McDermott (Matt Damon) is one of 'em, with ambitions to take down the legendary Johnny Chan at the Las Vegas World Series of Poker. It's a lovely pipedream for the law student — poker winnings help finance his education — but when he tries to move up to the big leagues, he's busted flat by a Russian card shark named Teddy KGB (John Malkovich) and forced to make quick cash by driving a delivery route for another player, Joey Knish (John Turturro).

Mike has a lovely lady (Gretchen Mol) and gives up the game for her, until old friend "Worm" (Edward Norton) comes back into his life. Mike feels obligated as Worm took the rap for fixing basketball games in their prep school. But friendship can only take you so far and Worm ain't no friend. Pretty soon Mike is back at the tables, fiancee-less, and 15 grand in the hole, having guaranteed Worm's debt to a loanshark named Grandma.

There's tons of story here, folks, and it lays out beautifully. A lovely supporting performance by Martin Landau as Mike's law professor gives a new twist to the idea of following your dreams. All the performances, from Mol on up to Damon, Norton and Malkovich are superb.

Cranky doesn't see casting and acting, let alone a script, this good, often. This is a great grown-up flick. Top of the line is Edward Norton, who makes Cranky's list for year end review. The Oscar race doesn't officially start for a month — but Spielberg kinda screwed that up didn't he? — so, for these pages, it starts now.

On average, a first run movie ticket will run you Eight Bucks. Were Cranky able to set his own price to Rounders, he would have paid...


That's the new "standard level" for nomination-level flicks. Cranky really liked Rounders; Screenplay and Norton make my list for sure. Everyone else, all the way down the line is still up for consideration.

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The Cranky Critic® is a Registered Trademark of, and his website is Copyright © 1995  -  2015   by Chuck Schwartz. Articles by Paul Fischer are Copyright © 1999 - 2006 Paul Fischer. All images, unless otherwise noted, are property of,©, ®, their respective studios and are used by permission. All Rights Reserved. Not to be used or copied for any commercial purpose. Academy Award(s) and Oscar®(s) are registered trademarks and service marks of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.