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Video Vault: Smart gambling drama knows when to hold 'em

Will Pfeifer

With Matt Damon revitalizing the action film in the “Bourne” trilogy and Edward Norton set to play the Hulk, let’s take a look back at a 1998 movie where those actors engaged in some less violent — but still tense — moments of drama.

“Rounders” cast the duo as old buddies whose friendship revolves around the poker table. Damon is the nice guy who, after a devastating gambling loss, is just trying work his way through law school. Norton is the less reputable one, an ex-con desperate to jump back into the world of cards, and perfectly willing to cheat once he gets there.

Naturally, this means trouble for Damon, and before you can say “all in,” he’s back behind a pile of chips, too.

It’s not a new story (there are more than a few echoes of Paul Newman’s 1961 classic “The Hustler”), but “Rounders” does reveal an intriguing, largely unseen world with wit and energy. The cast is solid, with Martin Landau and John Tuturro especially good (and John Malkovich especially bad), and the ending manages to avoid the old “true love redeems the hero” cliche.

As the movie winds up, the game goes on, and it’s not stopping until someone’s cashed out.

Will Pfeifer writes about new DVDs on Tuesdays and older ones on Sundays. Contact him at wpfeifer@rrstar.com or 815-987-1244.