High Roller The Stu Ungar Story Review
Stuart Errol Ungar is one of the greatest poker players of all time. He sadly passed away in 1998 but his legacy lives on in the film, High Roller, also released as Stuey. While he was also known for his Blackjack and Gin Rummy skills, it’s his achievements in Texas Hold’em and Gin that garnered him worldwide acclaim.
Ungar claimed the World Series of Poker title three times, making him only the second person in history to do so. From here he also became the only person ever to win the legendary Amarillo Slim’s Super Bowl of Poker for an incredible three times as well.
With such a talented player it is no surprise that the film based on his life combines triumph and tragedy in equal measure. The film is creatively told by Ungar himself, played by Michael Imperioli from the Sopranos. We find him in a motel, one day before his death where he is recounting his life to a stranger played by Michael Pasternak.
He tells the stranger his life story, from growing up with a bookmaker father and then moving into professional card playing, whether he played pokies online real money games we’ll never know, but we can almost bet that he did. His success made him a near household name before he become involved with drugs. He started taking cocaine recreationally after fellow players told him how the drug helps them focus during marathon poker sessions.
With his immense success and subsequent fame, Ungar soon finds himself addicted to cocaine and trying to keep together his failing marriage. The final scene is the WSOP main event where Ungar took his final title before his death at 45 a year later.
A Well Told Film
While the story of Ungar is amazing, it is the interpretation of his skills on screen that is truly captivating. Ungar was a master of reading his opponents and his character is almost like a narrator when he is playing.
What played a major role in telling this great story is the fact that director A.W Vidmer is also an avid poker player. This gives the film some truly unique and authentic scenes t the poker table that have not been captured in such a captivating way in film before.
The director also wrote the film and approached the film from a more serious angle. Rather than lose itself in trying to be a comedy or drama, High Roller rather focuses on being a gambling movie with those familiar story element sprinkled in to give a more cohesive picture of one of gambling’s most well known and loved individuals.
A Decorated Film
Despite the strengths of this film, it failed to receive widespread success. Critics however heaped praise upon its well-crafted story telling. The film took the 2003 Nashville Film Festival Audience Choice award for best feature.
The same year the film also claimed the San Diego Film Festival Award for Best Director. It also claimed a coveted PRISM Award commendation in 2004. Today it still remains an engaging and entertaining experience giving us a personal view of this great player’s exceptional story.