Paul Phua Poker continues to list the great poker movies
Read part one here
High Roller: the Stu Ungar Story (2003)
It would be impossible to make a dull movie about the life of Stu Ungar, one of the most gifted yet flawed poker players of all time. His comeback to win the World Series of Poker a historic third time in 1997 is the stuff of legend, and is recounted here on Paul Phua Poker.
Michael Imperioli (Christopher Moltisanti in The Sopranos) plays Stu Ungar, with real-life poker commentators and players including Vince Van Patten, Andy Glazer and Al Bernstein. Poker fans will recognise the extraordinary 7-2 bluff in the film by DJ (Joe La Due): in real life, this hand was played by Jack “Treetop” Straus, a story also recounted on Paul Phua Poker.
Key quote: “These donkeys never figured out that the game wasn’t about cards. It was about people.”
Casino Royale (2006)
You like your poker realistic? Watch Rounders. You want a bewitching dream of poker glamour, with men in tuxedos, women in sheer evening gowns and impossibly lucky hands at eye-watering stakes? Watch Casino Royale.
Poker is central to Casino Royale, the film that rebooted the James Bond franchise with Daniel Craig as the British super-spy. The poker action, as with everything 007, is way over the top: the villain doesn’t just have a tell, he weeps blood. The climactic poker hand isn’t just a cooler, it’s a four-way £115m super-cooler between an Ace-high flush, a full house, Aces full, and a straight flush.
Key quote: “That last hand nearly killed me.”
Lucky You (2007)
Centring on Eric Bana’s attempts to rustle up enough money to enter the Main Event of the World Series of Poker, Lucky You was released at the height of the US poker boom. Even so, it failed to take wing at the box office.
It’s a bad beat, since for poker players it’s a fine film. The hand analysis is detailed and on point, and it’s directed and co-written by Curtis Hanson, who won an Oscar ten years previously for LA Confidential. The great Robert Duvall plays Eric Bana’s wayward father and poker mentor, and players will enjoy spotting the real poker players in the film. Top pros include Daniel Negreanu, Phil Hellmuth, Johnny Chan, Antonio Esfandiari, John Juanda and Erik Seidel, with Jennifer Harman playing the fictional character of Shannon Kincaid.
Key quote: “You raised me with nothing?” “Sometimes nothing’s enough.”
Deal has a terrific premise, which is very much of its time: a hotshot internet player (Bret Harrison) is taken under the wing of a much older poker veteran (Burt Reynolds) who shows him the twists and tells of live play. After the two fall out over a woman (Shannon Elizabeth), they end up heads-up together on the final table of the WPT.
As with so many poker movies, Deal performed poorly at the box office – perhaps poker players are too busy playing to go to the cinema! But poker fans will enjoy the poker action, as well as spotting the real-life poker pros such as Phil Laak, Antonio Esfandiari, Chris Moneymaker, Greg Raymer and Isabelle Mercier. Jennifer Tilly, nowadays better known as a poker player than an actress, plays Karen “Razor” Jones, who busts Bret Harrison out near the beginning of the film.
Key quote: “You don’t play the cards, you play the player.”
Mississippi Grind (2015)
Gerry (Ben Mendelsohn) is a player so obsessed with poker that he plays an audiotape of Joe Navarro on tells in his car. Yet he seems only to get bad breaks. Curtis (Ryan Reynolds) is a younger, livelier gambler who encourages him to enjoy living on the edge.
Though poker and other forms of gambling are at the heart of the movie, the real joy is in the chemistry between the two characters during a picaresque road trip inspired by 1970s films.
Key quote: “It’s a bad beat, Gerry. Throw in the towel.”