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I was once really into poker, and this was the movie that started the obsession. Many people not interested in gambling pass it over, but you do not have to like the game to like the movie.

It tells the story of Mike McDermott, who lost his bankroll in a high-stakes card game with an underground card shark, and who gave up gambling for law school as a result (and swore to his toe-the-line girlfriend he’ll never play cards again). But all that changes when his best friend gets out of prison, back into the card rooms, and into trouble with the same guy that cleaned Mike out. Mike’s loyalty as a friend and love of the game pulls him back to the tables, but if he loses this time, he won’t just lose his money–his entire life will collapse.

I know, synopses never sound that great (I’m a fitness writer, not a movie critic, haha).

That said, one of the things that makes this movie great is the casting and acting: Matt Damon reprises a Good Will Hunting-esque role, Ed Norton plays the perfect degenerate that you just love to hate, and John Malkovich basically steals the show with his phenomenal performance. Even the more “backseat” roles are played by the likes of John Turturro and Martin Landau.

Another aspect of the movie that I really liked is the richness and subtlety of the writing. Surprisingly, it actually makes you think as it isn’t just a succession of poker things happening, but a well-planned thematic exploration of loyalty, integrity, and morality.

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