By Richard Winters
My Rating: 3 out of 10
4-Word Review: Gambling can hurt you.
‘One does not find one’s destiny one’s destiny will find them’. This seems to be the moral of this multi-faceted character study that has all the right ingredients, but is incredibly flat.
The story involves Mike McDermott (Matt Damon) a man trying to forge a normal life with a good job as an attorney and a relationship with a pretty woman. Yet he can’t beat his urge to gamble. When his friend Lester ‘Worm’ Murphy (Edward Norton) gets released from jail he finds himself led back into his old habits and his life soon falls apart.
The film wants to take an honest look at the lifestyle of a gambler without taking any shortcuts. In most ways it does an honorable job. It takes a more technical approach to poker playing and therefore makes it more enlightening. The situations seem a bit overly-dramatized, but overall are quite believable. It definitely has insights and is well crafted.
The problem is that it never comes together. Nothing is compelling and the momentum is lacking to the point that it starts to drag. Certain ‘strong’ scenes that are meant for impact end up having no effect at all. In the end it comes off as being too obvious and having too much of a textbook type approach.
Damon has proven himself to be a solid actor, but his character here is bland and colorless. Norton, as his troubled friend, is a little more interesting, but he is trapped in a stale setting. Both men look way too boyish to be playing the parts of seasoned, hardened, ‘been there, done that’ type characters.
John Malkovich is on hand to give an offbeat performance as a Russian born card player complete with a thick Russian accent. At first this is fun, but he ends up overdoing it and eventually makes it too campy. John Turturro gives an amazingly restrained performance, which could be of interest too his followers.
The one scene that really caps this off as being a bad movie for me is when Norton and Damon are caught cheating while playing amongst a large group of off-duty policemen. The police all gang up on them and pummel them in a way that should produce severe life threatening injuries. Instead they are thrown out of the building with not even a strand of their hair being out of place. They have a few streaks of red on their faces that is supposed to be blood, but it looks like paint put on by a paintbrush. Damon goes through the rest of the film with a slightly darkened eye and two scratches around his nose. Everyone comments that he looks like he “got it bad” when I’ve seen third graders with worse looking injuries after a playground fight.
My Rating: 3 out of 10
Released: September 11, 1998
Runtime: 2Hours 1Minute
Director: John Dahl
Available: DVD, Blu-ray