Given the popularity of poker in recent years, the game would seem to be ripe pickings for some enterprising filmmaker. Even before the World Series of Poker and the World Professional Poker Tour made Texas Hold 'em a TV sport second only to the Super Bowl, poker—seven card stud, draw poker, one-eyed jacks wild, you name it—was a weekly staple in homes and social clubs all over the country. Card rooms in the Vegas hotels might not have been bursting at the seams, but tables were filled with eager gamblers. Professional players, not yet celebrities, were notorious characters in search of the naïve unsuspecting mark. You have a popular game growing exponentially. You have a cast of interesting characters making the most of their new found fame. What better subject could a filmmaker want?
All In—The Poker Movie seizes the moment. It is a kind of rhapsody on the theme of poker. In something of a scatter shot approach, it has a little bit to say about the history of the game, pays some attention to its cultural and sociological significance, examines some of the reasons for its great growth, and talks about the problems facing the "poker" industry when the government shut down the internet gambling sites. Some elements are treated cursorily, some in greater depth, but nothing is dealt with in excessive detail. What the film does is give viewers a kind of guided tour to high spots in the world of poker.
As one might expect, it tends to focus attention on some of the more colorful denizens of that world. There is some early footage of the younger Amarillo Slim and a baby faced Stuart Unger—stars before the boom. Phil Helmuth, the "brat," makes an appearance in Roman costume, carried in by a bevy of scantily clad cuties. Poker playing beauties like Vanessa Rousso and Isabelle Mercier get their share of screen time. Chris "Jesus" Ferguson, Daniel Negreanu and Phil "the Unabomber" Laak are all on board with commentary.
Probably the most attention is paid to the story of Chris Moneymaker and his improbable 2003 victory in the World Series of Poker, the one event that may have been most instrumental in the game's growth surge. Moneymaker, an ordinary accountant—although something of a compulsive gambler as he describes himself in the film—entered a satellite tournament for $39 and managed to parlay it into millions. Here was an everyman who could hang with the best professionals and beat them at their own game. "If he could do it, why not me:" this was the kind of thinking that created the boom.