Mike is apologizing to his law school girlfriend for how he ended their relationship. She says, "Call me if you need a lawyer." Mike responds, "I will. And I will." That response neatly encapsulates the best aspect of Rounders, a film that takes a clear look at the type of person who becomes involved in the world of high stakes gambling. Matt Damon, playing against the type he had created a year earlier with his work in Good Will Hunting and The Rainmaker, embodies Mike's self-destructive tendencies while simultaneously revealing a self-awareness. He knows he will mess up, hence the wonderful goodbye line to Jo. Mike's best friend Worm is everything Mike would be without his self-awareness. Hunted, desperate, and selfish, Edward Norton's performance evokes Robert De Niro's Johnny Boy in Mean Streets, but not so much so that it is distracting. It is as if Worm saw Mean Streets as a child and decided he had found his role model. Like Dahl's previous film, The Last Seduction, Rounders is a character study, but unlike that film it is a character study that feels like real life. Where Bridgett in The Last Seduction was a love letter to every femme fatale in film history, Mike in Rounders feels like a guy that one might actually know. In addition to the clear-eyed look at the gambling life, Rounders boasts superb supporting performances by Martin Landau, John Turturro, and John Malkovich (who employs an outrageous Boris Badinoff accent that shouldn't work but does). Dahl, with the help of his performers and a solid screenplay, creates an entertaining modern noir.
by Perry Seibert review