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High Roller - The Stu Ungar Story
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Based on a true story, Michael Imperioli stars as poker legend, Stu Ungar. A gambler by the age of 10, Ungar won millions playing card games. He was one of two people ever to win the World Series of Poker three times - twice before age 26. But, in spite of his success, a life of excess and addiction left him in tremendous debt and could only end in tragedy.]]>
Top Customer Reviews
His life story makes for one heck of a movie, giving viewers a chance to experience the joys and sorrows of those big wins, to imagine "what if?" and to marvel at the guy who broke all those records winning in Las Vegas. Unger broke the mold but was also beset by personal demons.
It makes for a wild ride, marvelously directed and with a fine ensemble of actors, including two regulars from The Sopranos television show (and maybe one or two more from the show that I missed along the way).
What I liked:
I enjoyed finding out about Stu Ungars personal life.
I enjoyed the small poker scenes of the world series event that were re created. Although some of the other poker scenes in the movie were a little bit far fetched and not done properly.
I would have enjoyed the movie more if there was more poker and gin rummy footage.
As I said worth a watch and if you like Stu Ungar you should definetely watch this movie.
ps There is some very difficult moments in the movie where you watch Stu Ungar flush his whole bank roll on sports betting, booze, drugs and women. The footage is very real and the directors did a great job in re creating those moments.
The other thing I found is that you enjoy watching the movie more after the first time you watch it. Usually after the third time you watch the movie you will appreciate it more.
"Sopranos" lieutenant Michael Imperioli plays the lead role in this biopic. He is nothing special in the role, which apparently was supposed to portray a much younger man -- one that would be carded in a bar. Imperioli shows affinity for the ultimate loser but also shows his lack of breadth as an actor by playing the same role he plays in "The Sopranos". The producers lose some creidibility by never changing his appearance whether its 1978, 1989 or 1996.
Alumni from both "The Sopranos" and "Casino" play significant roles in this flick. One from each plays Imperioli's best buddies. Michael Nouri does some of the best work of his career in a one-dimensional role as mentor to the young Ungar, whose profligate talent as a cardshark appears as a boy of single digit years. Another actor plays the young Stu Ungar, a boy typically at odds with his father. That kid did a better job in the role than Imperioli, in my opinion.
But it's the story that's the clincher here, not the acting or players. And that follows young Stu from his earliest days in a household dominated by a strong father figure, to his high life as a Gin Rummy player, to his marriage and fatherhood years in Las Vegas, to his ultimate decline and death at an early age.
The story is always interesting and involving. In particular, this story is better crafted than two bigger budget casino flicks of recent years, the ridiculously-plotted "The Cooler" and the slick but superficial remake of 1960's "Ocean's 11". Neither of those films shows the humanity on display in "High Roller", whose basis in real life is obviously its strongest selling point on celluloid.
So rent, buy or borrow this movie if you like gambling, casino or human studies on film and settle in for a two-hour view into another life and another world, one far from the planet most of us inhabit.
The early parts are of the movie are the worst part as it's a Goodfellas rip off with even a replay of the wedding cash train scene that has been super-imposed to Stu's Bar Mitzvah. The local gangsters are devoid of the style found within Scorcese's classic. The child actor playing him in the beginning is completely wrong for the part.
A major problem that I with High Roller also concerned casting because Michael Imperioli is way too cool to be playing a guy like Ungar. He can't come off with zero social skills if he tried for a century, but, of course, Hollywood being Hollywood, finding somebody like Stu amidst all the models is not easy to do. Imperioli's acting was excellent though aside from his physical appearance.
One thing that I have to say in the director's defense about this movie is that they tried hard to be authentic with many of the facts. It was true that Ungar, even though he was worth millions, had his power shut off for not paying his bills. Also, it was historically accurate that his comment after winning the World Series of the Poker for the second time was that "he'd probably blow" the money which is exactly what he said and then did.
There is a pseudo-Doyle Brunson composite character who takes on the role of best friend, if Stu could have had one. He makes a play onscreen in a cash game that I recognized from Super System. I was impressed that they pulled that out of the book to use here. It was quite believable that Stu would have been so obsessed that he had to sign his mortgage papers at the poker table. That kind of attention to detail is why I give High Roller the three stars.