With poker being all the rage these days, it's no wonder that this drama, shot in 2003, is finding its way now to DVD. "High Roller" is the tale of Stu Ungar (played by Michael Imperioli of "The Sopranos"), who went on to become a World Poker Champion three times, and one of the youngest to win. Unfortunately, what comes up, must fall down in this case - it's not long before Stu finds himself struggling with drugs and alcohol.
Early in the film, Stu wakes up in a cruddy hotel room and finds himself face-to-face with a mysterious stranger, who requests that Stu tell him how he got himself to this point. Afterwards, the movie provides flashbacks leading up to that point from Stu's childhood. His father finds out about Stu's talents with cards and although he appreciates Stu's smarts, he eventually warns his son to stay out of the card game, but Stu doesn't listen.
"High Roller" is a key example of a picture that uses elements of other movies - anyone who's watched a lot of movies will be familiar with the drama that opens with a down-and-out guy telling his story to a mysterious stranger. There are other stereotypical elements of the genre in the mix, as well, but the movie still works fairly well. Imperioli offers a very good lead performance, as he does a fine job portraying a man who can read people so well he practically knows what cards anyone's playing. Unfortunately, he doesn't know when to quit.
The film has the look and feel of a bigger budget movie than this low-budget feature is. Production design, cinematography and locations are all quite nice; the only element that falters a little bit is the score, which can be a little melodramatic at times. Overall, this is a rather standard, somewhat predictable picture, but Imperioli's fine performance makes it worth viewing.
VIDEO: "High Roller" is presented by New Line in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen. The picture quality is generally excellent, although a few minor flaws do keep the presentation from being its best. Sharpness and detail are mostly fine, as the picture often looked crisp and well-defined. However, a few moments here-and-there appeared a tad softer than the rest.
Aside from the occasional softness, the picture didn't show much in the way of concerns. Some light shimmering appeared in a couple of scenes, as did some minor edge enhancement. No pixelation was seen, and the image was free of print flaws. The film's color palette occasionally offered warmer tones, but otherwise, the color palette was rather subdued. Either way, colors looked accurately rendered, with no smearing.
SOUND: "High Roller" is presented in Dolby Digital and DTS 5.1 by New Line. Although the film is presented in 5.1, this is mostly a dialogue-driven feature that doesn't require much use of the surrounds. The rear speakers do kick in for some ambience and musical reinforcement, but the majority of the audio is focused from the front speakers. Audio quality was fine, with clear dialogue, crisp music and well-recorded effects. Not much bass present, nor were there much in the way of differences between the Dolby and DTS soundtracks.
EXTRAS: The DVD offers a commentary from actor Michael Imperioli, director AW Vidmer and poker expert Vince Van Patten. There's also the video for "Yesterdays" by Marc Eric.
Final Thoughts: Some may have a strong feeling of familiarity when they start up "High Roller", but the picture's worth sticking with - it's a well-acted portrayal of an ace player who becomes addicted to more than just the roll of the dice. The DVD offers good audio/video quality and a nice helping of supplements. Recommended.