I recently had the opportunity to screen a copy of the Douglas Tirola documentary, All In: The Poker Movie. I’m not sure what I was expecting. I had heard good and bad things about the film. Not bad-bad. Mostly people in the mainstream film press and others outside of poker who felt that it overly glamorized gambling and poker.
As a full-fledged poker junkie I guess I’m never going to see things the same way someone who isn’t in love with the game will, so my review is more for people who already love the game of poker.
I think some of the negative reviews are a bit unfair. For instance, Neil Genzlinger, reviewing the film for the New York Times writes about people reflecting on how they heard about Black Friday:
Several of those heard from have the gall to compare the moment to the assassination of John F. Kennedy or the attack on Pearl Harbor.
I don’t think the people interviewed in the film attempted to equate Black Friday with the assassination of JFK or Pearl Harbor. They made a comparison as to how every poker player remembers how they first heard about Black Friday.
In the same, rather short, review Ganzlinger goes on to say:
The film, though, is so padded with cheerleading that it doesn’t have time for a serious exploration of poker’s place in the broader culture or the consequences of its rapid rise and global reach. Don’t look for a discussion of problems like gambling addiction here. In the world of “All In,” everybody seems to have unlimited resources.
Again, another rather loose interpretation of the film. Moneymaker talks several times about being broke from sports gambling. In fact, even in the above trailer Moneymaker says, “I was this big, heavy, drunk, degenerate gambler.” Several people in the film discuss being broke multiple times. I can’t even count the number of times the phrase “degenerate gambler” is used in the film.
My best guess is that most of the negative reviews are written by people unhappy with the fact that the documentary showed a side of poker that they didn’t want to accept. Sort of like saying, you hate a great white shark documentary because they didn’t fully explore the impact of sharks on the seals they eat.
Personally, I thought it was probably the best portrayal of the poker world anybody has ever done. They told the history of poker, the rise of poker’s popularity over the last few decades, the Moneymaker story, and the Black Friday story.
But the stories were not being told by the director. They’re told by the players, actors, business journalists, lawmakers, historians, and businessmen who are involved with poker. That’s what made it compelling. It wasn’t some outsider telling us about our hobby/business/passion. It was us talking about us.
It’s not all “Rah! Rah!” or anything. It’s a pretty straightforward look at poker by people involved with poker. Of course, people are going to be passionate about a topic they love so it may seem like cheer leading but Tirola mixes it up pretty good to give you multiple perspectives.
My only real critique is that Tirola may have bitten off too much for one film. Any of the sub-plots could have been a movie by itself. You go do an entire documentary on the history and growth of poker. You could do an entire documentary on Chris Moneymaker’s ride. You can do an entire documentary on Black Friday (and I hope someone does).
That said, Tirola still does a fine job pulling everything together to weave the big story. I found the entire experience entertaining. Even my wife, who normally has no interest in poker on television, asked me to unplug my headphones because she wanted to watch too.
So I’ll give it three thumbs up. My two and one of my wife’s 🙂