It isn’t very often that movies about gambling – and especially poker – come across any of the forms of media from Hollywood. Arguably the best known of this genre is the seminal poker film Rounders and there are few other examples that would compare (for comedy, check out The Grand and, to help Matt Savage’s retirement fund, go for Lucky You). A new effort that didn’t even go to the silver screen is now drawing attention for its realistic look at gambling and poker.
One of the best things that has come from the streaming services such as Hulu, Amazon Prime and Netflix is that they are now developing their own programming. That’s where a fan of gambling films can find Win It All, streaming on Netflix basically any time that the viewer wants to watch it. The movie has a 95% approval rating on the movie website Rotten Tomatoes (based on 20 reviews) and an average rating of 7.5 out of 10, while it also garners a 78 (on a scale of 100) on the website Metacritic.
The movie focuses on Eddie Garrett (Jake Johnson, known for his work on the Fox comedy New Girl), a gambler whose day job is parking cars at Wrigley Field in Chicago (for anyone who has ever tried to park in the neighborhood surrounding the home of the Cubs, you’ll understand the job) and who by night is, as his Gamblers’ Anonymous sponsor Gene (Keegan-Michael Key of the Comedy Central program Key & Peele), someone who has “never won.” But things are about to change for Garrett after he does a favor for a friend of his named Michael (Jose Antonio Garcia): hold onto a duffel bag while he is incarcerated, but don’t look inside it.
While it should be easy to do a favor, curiosity gets the better of Eddie and he eventually cracks open the bag to find a crapload of money inside. And, naturally, because he is a compulsive gambler, Eddie eventually blows the money in the bag through a variety of gambling means. Where the twist comes to the movie is when Michael calls Eddie from prison to let him know that he’s being released early and Eddie must come up with the money that he’s lost in the only way he knows – gambling.
The premise may not be appealing to those who consider themselves “professional gamblers,” but Win It All works because of the directing of the film. Director Joe Swanberg gives the film a great look at how the underground gambling scene works (he also films it very well), but Swanberg also doesn’t shirk scenes away from the “world of gambling.” Win It All is as much a look at the gambling world as it is a glimpse into the mind and psychology of a person who tries to do the right things but sometimes steps awry.
It may be a better effort than what could be coming down the pike soon. Screenwriter Aaron Sorkin has finished his directorial debut in Molly’s Game, his adaptation of “The Poker Princess” Molly Bloom’s story of working in the world of underground poker. The story of Bloom is well known to most in the poker world, how she went from a former Olympic hopeful to the organizer and host for the biggest high stakes cash games in first Hollywood and then New York. The problem with Molly’s Game? Sorkin doesn’t plan to tell the whole story.
On many occasions, Sorkin has stated he will not delve into the players who took part in the games, going as far as to not name them at all. That would mean ignoring (or at least putting on fictitious players) vast swaths of Bloom’s book where she talks about such power players as Leonardo DiCaprio, Ben Affleck, Tobey Maguire and other Hollywood producers and businessmen. Sorkin has also said that Molly’s Game isn’t about the poker but about “Bloom’s journey to finding who she is.”
The problem for Molly’s Game is that it has lined up some A-list talent for what might be a horrendous story. Two-time Academy Award nominee Jessica Chastain will play Bloom, with Idris Elba slated to play her attorney and be a major plot driver. Others such as Kevin Costner, Michael Cera and Jeremy Strong are also a part of the project, which is slated for release later this year.
Until the Sorkin film premieres, we might have to do with Win It All to satisfy the jones for gambling movies. If the reviews are correct, it may be the better of the two films.