POKER DOCUMENTARIES are kind of like those Warren Miller ski films—you never hear anyone in them say, "Man, skiing SUCKS." That's why first-time director (and Portland resident) Mike Weeks' film, Drawing Dead: The Highs and Lows of Online Poker is a breath of fresh air. Or at least most of it is.
Weeks examines the poker life from two very different perspectives: a winner (online poker prodigy Dusty Schmidt) and a loser (recovering gambling addict Michael Korpi Jr.). Schmidt was a promising amateur golfer who was sidelined from the sport—but made a fortune playing online poker. He represents the top tier of those lucky players who actually make a living from cards, and ironically, stands to lose the most if he no longer has the ability to play the game.
Meanwhile, Korpi represents the bottom tier—a decent player who developed an addiction to online play that eventually turned to crime, thereby destroying his life and relationships. However, Korpi managed to turn his fortunes around—but rather than returning to the table, he chose instead to walk across the entire country in an effort to raise awareness about problem gambling.
Interspersed between the stories of these two very different men is a history of the incredible rise (and fall) of online poker, as well as the science behind gambling addiction. And for a first-time director, Weeks has pulled off a pretty impressive feat. While there is certainly some heavy-handed preachiness here, along with unnecessary examinations of the mid-'90s poker boom you'll see in so many other like-minded docs, Weeks' serious examination of addiction is a topic that gambling sycophants never breathe a word about—and that makes this film necessary. Drawing Dead may not be for everybody, but it's a "must-see" for poker fans, and a "maybe-see" for everybody else.