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High Roller (2002)
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.

Stu Ungar had one of the most captivating lives in the history of biography, but, unfortunately, this movie does not do it justice. The motif here is that Ungar gives his memoirs verbally to an imagined presence in his hotel room shortly before he dies.

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.

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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.

This is an over glamourised view of Ungar's life. I (the editor) only saw him once in 1997, the year he won his third title. He looked ill and someone whos life vices had taken him physically to the edge. This is still an enjoyable movie to watch though all the mafia nonesense could be dispensed with. The technique of the mystery visitor (angel of death) making Stuey relive his life before he was taken away was a success.
Marks : 7½/10
Director A.W. Vidmer Michael Imperioli Stu 'Stuey' Ungar
Producer F.A. Miller Renee Faia Angela
Writing A.W. Vidmer Michael Nouri Vincent
Cinematography Larry Boothby Joe La Due DJ
Cert./Runtime 120 mins Steve Schirripa Anthony
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