Monday, September 7, 2009

Sexy Poker Players and Cheaters

I finally got around to completely watching Rounders. It's only been out 34 years, so I figured it was about time. Since I like Matt Damon and play poker when possible (not nearly as often as I like), I also figured I'd enjoy the movie. All of my friends have liked it, and while their tastes aren't often the same as mine their recommendations rang true and made sense.

I liked it. It wasn't great, but it was good. As a poker movie I think it captured that special feeling you can only get from the game. It also captured the personalities involved in the game pretty damn well. Matt Damon, who should play Captain America before he gets too old, is his usual nice guy self, and it worked for the role. Edward Norton, who plays his friend Worm, was his sleazy friend who used and abused everyone on his way to the bottom. There were good dynamics between the two, though they didn't share a sex scene, which I was hoping for. (Perhaps under Obama's America, as detailed here, homosexual sex scenes will become the norm.)

Complaints about the film are few. The most prominent being was that it suffered from the same malady as most Hollywood movies: predictability. I knew the ending long before I arrived there naturally. I could've turned it off and still knew what happened. Poker players know this kind of predictability does not happen in the game, though you try to skew those odds so it does. Mainstream film audiences, though, think differently.

Filmgoers want their movies to end neatly wrapped. They want to take comfort in the ending. They want to leave the theatre as they came in: unchanged and unmoved. Had I written this film, Damon's character would've ended the film broke and laying dead in an alley, bullet wound in his head. There would be a small hole in the forehead where a decent amount of blood was coming from. As his eyes slowly closed, his on screen narration (which was helpful in this movie) would be, "And this is how it ends. If I would've listened to myself when I said I wouldn't have gone back as good as I listened at the tables, I wouldn't be here. I wouldn't be dying in some alley, hoping someone spots me in time to call an ambulance. This isn't Hollywood, though. This is poker ... and sometimes there are no happy endings. Marlon Brando in On the Waterfront has a famous line. He says he could have been a contender. I know I could've. I would've won, too. I would've won."

But I don't write movies, and perhaps I would refine that line more, but I think Damon's death would have been a better ending. Not because I hate the guy, but because when the pressure is on sometimes even the best sweat and flop. It would have robbed the audience of what they expected and instead given it what it deserved. If you love cinema as an art, you understand that is what is supposed to happen.

Good movie. Not great. Standard end, which renders most of what came in the previous two hours and forty minutes moot.

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