STUDIO: Buena Vista
MSRP: $49.99 RATED: NR
RUNNING TIME: 360 Minutes
• Commentary
• Alternate Season Finale
• Deleted Scenes
• Alternate Ending
• Outtakes
• Auditions
• On the Set
• 1998 World Series of Poker – Final Table
• Virtual Tour of the Colorado Casino

I love poker. I was in the craze before the craze. I play cards at least once a week and usually win more than I lose. I’ve seen various poker movies, read books and never miss an episode of the World Poker Tour.

I’m a fan.

I also love the movie Rounders (which Nick reviewed here). Tilt was written by the same team (Brian Koppelman and David Levien). Maybe I’m predisposed to like Tilt. Given that I’m a fan of the subject and the creative team – that’s being dealt Aces down. If Tilt was half as good as the tale of Mike McDermott and Worm from Rounders I knew I’d love it.

Subtlety is not Vegas’ strong suit.

The Show

Before I get too far into my review let me just tell you, the show is fantastic. I have some issues with it, but all-in-all it is great. That being said, you should enter the CHUD contest to win this DVD set. Go All In with the contest here!

When you first watch Tilt, it seems like an easy show to figure out. It is a combination poker show and crime show. The characters are quickly established and we know who the good guys and bad guys are. Cheering them on at the tables and booing them in back alley brawls makes sense.

"For the last time, Bob! This is an aquarium. Not an all-you-can-eat sushi buffet."

There are two distinct plot lines with the bad guy, Don “The Matador” Everest (Michael Madsen), at the center of both. One plot thread follows three young poker players trying to bring down The Matador and the other is a cop investigating the death of his brother, and he believes that The Matador is responsible.

That’s a basic rundown of the plot – which I remembered from when I watched the show while it aired on ESPN. At the time of first viewing I found the poker plotline more engaging. It is given more time – obviously since it’s the main plot – but its characters are also far more engaging. Eddie (Eddie Cibrian), Clark (Todd Williams) and Miami (the ridiculously hot Kristine Lehman) are captivating to watch as they try and bring down The Matador.

However, upon watching the complete show again for this review many of my notions about the show changed.

There are a few moments in this series that made me reeeaaaaaaally wish it was on HBO. This (or more accurately, what happens right after this) is one of them.

First, I would no longer call this a poker/crime show. That label fits – but only as a top view. The show is really about revenge. Lots of revenge. Every character in the show, in one way or another, is looking for revenge on someone else (most looking to get revenge on The Matador). Upon second viewing, the revenge aspect of it really come out, as the viewer is seeing more than just the glitz of the production and high stakes poker world.

Eddie, Clark and Miami all want revenge on Everest. Everest cheated each of them (supposedly) on separate occasions during their past. Now they are looking to settle the score. They are coached (as a poker team and a revenge squad) by Seymour (Kenneth Walsh) – who is also looking for revenge on The Matador.

I say they were supposedly cheated because each of them lost a high-stakes game to The Matador. Each of them left the table thinking they were beat. It wasn’t until Seymour tells them they were cheated that they believe it. This brings up an interesting question – were they really cheated? Or is Seymour using them as pawns in his own game of revenge against Everest? The first time I watched the show, that question never entered my mind; this time through, however, it sticks out glaringly.


Ricky hoped that the loss of his drool cup wasn’t too noticable.

It sticks out as a question because Seymour’s character is very methodical. He is patient and he has planned his attack on Everest. Seymour cannot go after Everest publicly, however. He has to do quietly, so Everest doesn’t know who really took him down.

Professional poker players plan moves in advance. You might act strong on one hand and give your opponent a pot so you can take it back (and more) on a future pot. You often play with your opponent mentally. Is this what Seymour is doing to his three soldiers? Is he buttering them up to do his bidding?

First viewing, I didn’t think so. But something else I noticed in the second viewing has me really wondering. At first, I was really disappointed in the character of Don Everest. In the first episode, you quickly learn that he is a bad-ass. He is the king of the mountain and will do anything to stay there. By the end of the season, you know relatively little else about him. He gets a lot of screen time but pretty much does the same thing in scene after scene. There was, I thought, very limited character development.

At that moment I remembered my first fight with Tyler.

On second viewing, however, I realized how wrong I was. You see Everest’s skill at manipulating people at the card table – that was obvious. You see his manipulation of certain people behind the scenes – people who work for the casino that keep him in power. What isn’t as noticeable (but very much there) is his subtle manipulation of everyone around him.

People are gunning for him and he knows it. He plays them before he can be played. He does this at the tables and in life. There are a few episodes where he takes Eddie under his wing. First viewing you think that Eddie has the upper hand. Second viewing you see how The Matador maneuvers Eddie (and subsequently Miami and Clark) exactly where he wants them. Everest’s foresight and plotting are best shown at the very end of the final episode. Without going into spoiler territory, his character does something that makes you immediately re-think everything you saw, not just in the episode, but in the entire series as well. Was the finale completely pre-determined by The Matador? Or was did he legitimately play the hand he was dealt?

Madsen plays the part of Everest well. He’s good but not great. There are times (the first episode and then again during random scenes in various episodes) that he seems really clunky. His lines come out in a weird delivery and he almost seems like an actor playing a high stakes poker player played by Michael Madsen.

Tip for the kids: When you’re in prison, keep your back against the wall.

The rest of the cast is solid all the way around. Cibrian, Williams and Lehman play their parts of young poker pros perfectly. It helps that their characters are defined throughout the season as well.

Eddie’s character may be the least well defined. This is odd because he is the focus. You are given some of his back story and he has a few scenes with both his mom and dad that give him some extra depth. The scenes with his father – Gentleman Jim, played by Robert Forster – are great. Forster plays the part of loser/high stakes pro incredibly. Even dressed in a pressed suit, he still has the look of someone beaten down by the game (and stuck playing $2/$4 games).

Clark gets the most character development. Heck, he’s the only one that gets his own distinct plotline (it eventually ties into the main two plotlines); and he’s the only character that has a life outside the poker room. We learn about him and mistakes he’s made in the past (running a sports wagering facility out of his college dorm). We also find out that he’s incredibly smart (helped launch a company, passed his Series 7 exam, etc.). He isn’t as captivating as Eddie (Cibrian has a great screen presence that helps with that) but his character is much more well defined.

Forester is putting his Black Hole royalties to very good use.

Rounding out the three is Lehman. Miami seems to be the revenge ringleader of the trio and it makes sense why. Her character is the only one (besides Seymour) where we find out what happened between her and Everest. We see, to a degree, Everest cheating her. We also find out the lasting effects it has on her character. The viewer can hop on her cause because we know the most about her past with Everest.

It doesn’t hurt, by the way, that Lehman is incredibly hot. Miami uses her allure at the tables to get guys (who think they have a chance with her after the game) to bet more than they should and take their money. Lehman has the…stack(s) to make this aspect of the character work.

The other plotline of the show is dominated by detective (Chris Bauer – no relation to Jack Bauer) trying to bring Everest down. This is the plot that really gives the show some structure. The poker plot only has one real conclusion – same as any sports movie. The hero and villain are going to meet at the tables. That seems pretty obvious.

Now that he has been found Not Guilty, Michael Jackson (in his new disguise) is going to Disney World!

The investigation plot, however, is more open. It can go in a few different directions before being finalized. It isn’t as interesting (I didn’t think) as the poker plot, but it does give the show some different avenues to explore. It isn’t as engaging but its conclusion isn’t as evident.

One thing I would have liked to see, given the subject and writers, was a cameo by Matt Damon as his Rounder’s character. It would have been perfect had he popped up during the final tournament. Everest or Eddie could have knocked him out and it would have made perfect sense. Plus the audience could have seen what happened to Mike McDermott.

9 out of 10

First comes the makeup. Then the “Buffalo Bill” tuck. After that George would be ready to go out on the town.

The Look

Cable television has really exploded in terms of quality programming lately. Tilt is another example of that. ESPN dropped some chips, not only for the creative aspects of the show, but also for the production. The show needed to showcase the glitz of Vegas, the allure of High Stakes poker and the seedy underbelly of it all. Tilt does this not only through the plot, but through the look as well.

The show comes off looking great because of it. The production value on both the show and the disk is strong and that translates into the look of the show.

One problem I had with the look was during the final tournament. The tournament was shot (in a great case of corporate synergy) as if it was being aired on ESPN (which is part of the plot). The only thing is – ESPN’s coverage and production of poker doesn’t work well. It feels forced and confined. It is one sport they just don’t do well. So, using the ESPN playbook for broadcast brings down the look of the show at times. It goes from high-polished glitz to standard ESPN poker coverage, which is disappointing.

7.25 out of 10

It was when Serena decided that "air-frenching" would be fun that I knew I wasn’t getting any that night.

The Noise

The noise on the disk is fantastic. Someone did a top notch job putting this together. It is presented in Dolby Digital 5.1 and every layer of sound (dialogue, casino background noise, background music, minor sound effects, etc.) comes through crystal clear.

Plus, the theme song is great. It pumps through your speakers and hits you, getting you ready for what you are about to see. Good stuff.

9 out of 10

"Fake? Fake! I’ll have you know that this is the finest Ewok toupee and moustache set that money can buy!"

The Goodies

This set contains three disks. The first two disks have four episodes each on them. The last disk only has one. That leaves a lot of room for extra features and it uses them. There is a lot of filler and some good pieces of extras too.

Two (well, three) of my favorite things.

Behind The Scenes Featurette – Your basic cast and crew interviews edited together into a featurette. Pretty much what you’d expect.

Deleted Scenes – Nothing interesting in here at all. Many are introduced with the words “well, this one was an easy one to cut…” A lot of filler.

Alternate Ending – Great alternate ending. This ending is definitely has more impact and is one you don’t see coming. It is also rather depressing and leaves less room for a sequel season. So, pretty obvious why it was changed.

On the Set with ESPN’s Mike & Mike – a camera follows around two radio show hosts on set one day with a camera. Basic filler. I’ve never listened to Mike & Mike so their antics and banter did nothing but annoy me.

1998 World Series of Poker – ESPNs coverage of the 1998 World Series of Poker’s final table. The viewer gets to see the player’s hole cards when watching poker on TV now. That way you can see if the player has something or is bluffing the pot. Showing the viewer these cards is a new phenomenon in televised poker. In 1998, for instance, the cameras did not show the viewer the hole cards. That makes it harder to watch. Half the fun of watching it on TV is watching the betting in relation to the cards they are holding. If you can’t see the cards…

Virtual Tour of the Colorado Casino – Cibrian takes the viewer on a guided tour of the warehouse that Tilt was shot on. He takes you through the sets and shows their magnitude. This was a pretty interesting featurette. It wasn’t’ groundbreaking or anything, but enjoyable.

8 out of 10

John immediately wanted to take back what he just said. He didn’t know he was at a Julie Andrews Fan Party when he said that The Sound of Music sucked.

The Artwork

How incredibly underwhelming. People standing! YEA! Incredibly unoriginal and lazy. The even have Lehman sequestered way in the back. That just ain’t right.

3 out of 10

Overall: 7.25 out of 10