The scene features a round table full of older men playing poker. The camera alternates between the speaker and a table level view – the table level view gives a sense of action. This alternating goes on for a few minutes until Matt Damon walks in with some type of delivery. When he does this, a man in the foreground has his back to him but is out of focus, the subject is clearly Damon, but the positioning of the other conveys that Damon is not a part of the group.
Then, as Damon interacts with the group, the camera does something interesting. Most of the time the camera spends on Damon, he is the only one in the frame or totally unobstructed, but whenever anyone else speaks, the camera always has another actor in the frame, blurry in the foreground. Damon is also on what Ebert calls the “strong axis” just to the right of center, showing he is the good guy.
The difference between these two tendencies shows that the men at the table are homogenous; they are all older, white, and male, but they also have the same level of intellect and prejudice against the young newcomer who quite clearly, stands apart and is the only one smiling.
The scene opens with voice-over narration from Damon. This sets the scene, and really defines his character had we not seen the whole movie. Having seen the whole movie, I think its redundant and I don’t like voice-over narration outside of the first 10 minutes of a film; but, it works great watching only these 4 minutes. The sound of a poker game are loud, with the chips clattering and jazz music playing. The jazz music is clearly only to set the scene as kind of old fashioned, because it stops about a minute in, but no one has turned off a record or anything like that. The old fashioned feel plays off the homogenous clump of old fashioned characters I talked about above. There is also periodic use of paper (probably the cards) folding (or shuffling) that just sorta gives a little texture to the background white noise.
The Total Package:
The total package kind of reverses some of my assertions. In the video only, I was thinking that the players were saying something of consequence prior to Damon’s entry, but they were chatting indistinctly – which really just adds to the background noise of chips and jazz. It also doesn’t come across as hostile as I thought it’d be with just the video, maybe the video makes it more hostile as a sense of foreshadowing, while the audio shows a bit more of the here-and-now. I still believe my assertion about the character-specific camera angles is correct, with the players sitting in a circle, and indeed it is their private circle – as one might talk about a secret club or something. Whatever the truth is though, it’s a great scene.