Poker – The greatest scene-stealer

December 2, 2007

Discovering a poker scene in a movie is a great feeling for a fan of the game. It creates that deeper connection to the characters and the scene, the unspoken bond that says, “Yeah, I know what’s up.”

And I’m not talking about poker movies where the game is the dominant part of the plot, like in “Rounders” or “Shade,” which in their own right are still damn cool. I’m talking about movies or shows that are about something entirely different, set in a genre where you wouldn’t even think to see poker pop up.

One example that comes to mind as I’m writing this is old episodes of Star Trek: The Next Generation. Would Jonathan Frakes’ character Will Riker still be a bad-ass if he weren’t a cut-throat card shark who took Data for every synthetic dime he was worth?

Probably not…although whether Riker is considered a bad-ass anyway is debatable. (Compared to Worf, no. Compared to Wesley Crusher, yes.)

But when the commanding officers strapped on the visors and took a seat at the green felt table, even though I liked the show and the science fiction premise to begin with, I couldn’t help but get excited and involved in the program that much more because the characters were playing poker.

So…I joined up with Netflix a little while ago in hope of catching up on hundreds of old movies I’ve never seen, heard of or had always skipped over at the brick and mortar video stores in favor of the shiny new releases calling my name.

One of the recent movies that showed up was an early 1970’s science fiction gem starring Bruce Dern called “Silent Running.”

Set in the future, Dern’s character lives on a massive space station with 3 other men. We know very little about Earth at this time, other than it is completely barren. The space station houses massive domes containing self-contained forests, in which Dern and the others are tasked with maintaining and cultivating life in hopes of brining it back to Earth.

Fast-forward the plot a bit, the evil corporations that run the show order the men to abort the mission, nuke the forests and return home…a command that makes the other men happy, but infuriates Dern because he has fallen in love with one of the forests.

Dern disposes of the men, fakes an accident aboard the ship and for a time disappears from contact with humanity and gets lost behind Saturn.

During this time, Dern reprograms and befriends 2 (3 at first, but 1 is destroyed) drones that he humanizes and names Huey and Dewey.

As I’m watching this flick, interested but not blown away, we come to a scene where Dern programs the two drones with the basics of playing poker. He sets each one up with chips and cards and they get a game going.

Aside from the neat moment of seeing a poker game in an old, rather obscure sci-fi flick, the interaction between Dern and the drones is captivating and quite heart-felt. Here’s a man who’s been without human contact for months. He treats the drones almost like sons. He has an obvious passion for the game (which Dern sells perfectly), and tries to get the drones to pick up on the tricks and critical thinking that’s needed to be successful in poker. Make your own poker scene at today.

The scene itself is only a few minutes long, but to see Dern’s frustration when one of the drones doesn’t take any cards with a hand of Queen-high is something everyone who’s tried to teach someone else to play the game can relate to.

And then, seeing Dern’s beautifully portrayed joy when he’s beaten by Dewey, who’s holding a full house, is really a touching moment. You have to witness the scene yourself to understand how something like that can evoke emotion in the viewer, but his sense of accomplishment in that moment is worth the price of admission alone.

I guess I don’t have a real message or strong conclusion to this article, other than to keep your eyes open in all aspects of entertainment, and always keep an open mind to watching a movie or TV show you otherwise might not have considered – you might just happen upon a poker scene worth remembering.