All In: The Poker Movie

With cable channels, poker is, literally, now on television every day of the year, oftentimes for many hours. Powered by an explosion in online playing, it's a multi-billion-dollar industry, and a far cry from the late 1980s and early '90s, when the game was in decline. These trends and more get spotlighted in Douglas Tirola's All In: The Poker Movie, an achingly comprehensive documentary that unfolds in scattershot form, yet still remains entertaining enough to engage non-players, even as it neglects to provide a basic overview of different styles (the insidious, divisive creep of "Texas Hold 'Em"!) or indeed a working definition of the game itself.

Celeb aficionados like Matt Damon, Jennifer Tilly, Denny Crum, Evander Holyfield and The Simpsons co-creator Sam Simon get face time here, but most of the interviewees are industry insiders, whose stories — about high-stakes, secret Mayfair Club matches, or Henry Orenstein's card camera innovation, which helped make poker watchable for the layperson — are interesting and colorful. There's plenty of high-falutin' talk that wildly lionizes the game (I'm willing to entertain a description of it as "the epitome of capitalism," and emblematic of the American spirit, but less certain that poker is "love, life, religion and politics, all wrapped up into one"), yet Tirola has clearly cast his net far and wide. Using Chris Moneymaker, a self-described "gambling degenerate" and Joe Everyman who pulled off a shocking victory at the 2003 World Series of Poker, as his narrative spine is also a good choice. It gives All In some semblance of normal heartbeat, even if a viewer doesn't know a straight flush from a full house.

 

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