For some, poker is a metaphor for life, embodying all the excitement, tension and danger that can be found in the real world. Those who read the game as such will likely be entertained by All In: The Poker Movie, a documentary that locates its purpose in detailing the rise and fall of the worldwide poker boom of the past few decades.
If, like me, you're unable to even recall the last time you've sat down for a hand of cards, much less watched an entire tournament on television, you might enjoy some of All In but, after a while, as the film shifts to something resembling political advocacy, there's not a lot left to cling onto for the casual viewer. To be clear, All In is a film made for poker obsessives by poker obsessives.
Which isn't to say that there aren't some interesting anecdotes on display in All In. Among them: the tale of early world champion Thomas "Amarillo Slim" Preston, the extreme love that poker insiders hold for John Dahl's 1998 film Rounders (Dahl, star Matt Damon and screenwriter Brian Koppelman are interviewed), and the remarkable 2003 rise of Chris Moneymaker from online gambler to world champion.
Director Douglas Tirola makes a strong case for why we should care about those individual threads, each based in the lives of people and what inspires them. But a less convincing argument is forged when discussing the government clampdown on online poker, aligning the suppression of a lucrative industry with restrictions on personal freedom; it's a line of reasoning that comes off as a bit of a stretch, especially in light of Tirola's decision to not sugarcoat the addictive nature and risks of the recreational sport being profiled.
All in all, this is a documentary for a specialized audience made up almost entirely of poker enthusiasts. It's a film that works best when dealing with the history of the game and investigating the lives of its individual subjects. Whenever it strays from that path, it sheds much of its accessibility for the average viewer, preaching to the choir and losing the congregation in the process.
All In: The Poker Movie plays through Thurs., April 12th at the Clinton Street Theater. More info available here.
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