Fans of HBO's "The Sopranos" and Martin Scorsese's "Casino" will enjoy "High Roller - The Stu Ungar Story", a story about the rise and fall of real life gambler Stu Ungar.
"Sopranos" lieutenant Michael Imperioli plays the lead role in this biopic. He is nothing special in the role, which apparently was supposed to portray a much younger man -- one that would be carded in a bar. Imperioli shows affinity for the ultimate loser but also shows his lack of breadth as an actor by playing the same role he plays in "The Sopranos". The producers lose some creidibility by never changing his appearance whether its 1978, 1989 or 1996.
Alumni from both "The Sopranos" and "Casino" play significant roles in this flick. One from each plays Imperioli's best buddies. Michael Nouri does some of the best work of his career in a one-dimensional role as mentor to the young Ungar, whose profligate talent as a cardshark appears as a boy of single digit years. Another actor plays the young Stu Ungar, a boy typically at odds with his father. That kid did a better job in the role than Imperioli, in my opinion.
But it's the story that's the clincher here, not the acting or players. And that follows young Stu from his earliest days in a household dominated by a strong father figure, to his high life as a Gin Rummy player, to his marriage and fatherhood years in Las Vegas, to his ultimate decline and death at an early age.
The story is always interesting and involving. In particular, this story is better crafted than two bigger budget casino flicks of recent years, the ridiculously-plotted "The Cooler" and the slick but superficial remake of 1960's "Ocean's 11". Neither of those films shows the humanity on display in "High Roller", whose basis in real life is obviously its strongest selling point on celluloid.
So rent, buy or borrow this movie if you like gambling, casino or human studies on film and settle in for a two-hour view into another life and another world, one far from the planet most of us inhabit.