All In: The Poker Movie Is A Documentary That Doesn’t Show The Whole Picture

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all in poker movie poster

The everyman story of poker is exactly what All In: The Poker Movie wants to tell, and it’s something we’re going to review here.

A documentary film from the year 2012 featuring (not really starring, since it’s a documentary) interviews with noted celebrities such as actors Matt Damon and Jennifer Tilly, musician Kenny Rogers, and media personality Ira Glass, among others, director Douglas Tirola explores the booming popularity of poker in America.

It discusses American poker, but it may as well be worldwide. On top of dissecting the game’s growing following, the movie also looks into the government’s crackdown on internet gambling, which culminated in one fateful day more than five years ago. Needless to say, the poker world hadn’t quite been the same since.

You’d expect All In: The Poker Movie to go all in on the topic it chose, but like all documentaries, this film comes built in with a slant. (All you have to do is watch its trailer, and you don’t even need to do a careful review of the words.) Documentaries try to explore as much about a topic as possible, as in a way the documentary genre is a form of journalism, but these movies are also just as prone to editorializing and agenda-setting.

all in the poker movie screenshot

All In is no different; in describing the popularity of poker in America, it’s trying to make a case for the legalization of online gambling. There’s certainly nothing wrong with that as long as it’s well-regulated internally, since offline gambling is of no legal consequence, but the concerns over it are pretty understandable. (We’ll get to those a little later.)

It can’t also be denied that poker and any form of gambling is degenerative, especially when weak-willed suckers are tempted into the thrill of easy big money after a good hand. All In goes into the debacle that was Black Friday, a day back in 2011 that effectively shut down the big poker sites in America. Before then, these sites were a big deal, even being advertised heavily on TV and web ads, and authorities just suddenly cracked down on these sites due to money laundering and bank fraud charges.

Related: Guns, Girls, and Gambling Is A Straight-To-Video Title That Fails To Be A Tarantino Movie

The film spends a lot of time going into and reviewing the reactions of top poker players in the country, who in turn spent a lot of time playing the game online, in an attempt to lend credence to the position that poker wasn’t such a bad game, it was just some people making it bad for others.

There was certainly nothing wrong in a position advocating poker and online gambling, because when properly regulated and reviewed the game shouldn’t be harmless on a macro level. But All In just goes about things the wrong way in trying to tame its massive multi-branched story. (Tirola even says that they were adding new information and footage up until the last minute, earlier in the year the movie was released.)

Had it had more time for the director and producers to review the story they were telling and allow some of the looser threads of the topic be cut from the final release, it may have been a more persuasive documentary, but for some reason it just was not edited. It felt like Tirola decided there was too much information that couldn’t be left out of the movie, which is never true. There’s always something to cut down, and all they needed to do was review their narrative. Needless to say, poker fanatics are sure to love All In, but more level-headed viewers will find a lot to dissect about this film in their review.

Here’s the unfortunate thing for a movie like All In, a work of art and journalism that aims to persuade: a documentary film is supposed to prop up the opposition to its argument properly and use the power of film and information-gathering to properly conquer that opposition; anything other than that amounts to nothing more than propaganda in movie form. There’s a reason why this movie got mixed reviews: most people can spot propaganda from far away, and nobody likes propaganda. Except, of course, those who are addicted to playing poker.

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