We all know that movies have the power to inspire us in a variety of ways and when it comes to cinematic offerings with a gambling twist things aren’t any different. Often harnessing the glitz and glamour of exotic locations such as Las Vegas and Monte Carlo, gambling movies not only combine money, risk and excitement, they also conform to the age-old movie motif of escapism.
Because gambling for thousands of dollars (or whatever your native currency might be) is so far removed from our everyday lives, a movie on the subject allows us to escape our humdrum existences for 90 minutes or more and vicariously assume the role of a James Bond-style character.
Now, we know you’ve probably heard of casino classics such as Casino and Ocean’s Eleven, but there’s more to the genre than those box office hits. So, because we don’t want you to gamble with your time and choose a movie that misses the mark, we’ve picked out three of our favourite gambling flicks and given you an insight into why they’re worth betting on.
If you’re a fan of movies starring Robert Redford and Paul Newman then you’ll love The Sting. The plot is relatively simple: two con artists attempt to dupe a mob boss after he kills one of their friends.
However, while the plot is simple, it’s the way in which the two men Johnny Hooker (Redford) and Henry Gondorff (Newman) pull off a “long con” on Doyle Lonnegan (Robert Shaw) that’s so intriguing.
In fact, much like a game of roulette or blackjack where subtle moves can be used as part of a larger overall strategy, Hooker and Gondorff analyse a number of factors before making their big move.
For example, when you join a site such as Smart Live Casino and ante-up on one of its online roulette tables, the aim of the game is to size up each bet, its long term expectation (the probability of a move having success in the long term) and the amount you’re willing to stake to find out which is the best move to make.
Using a similar thought process, Hooker and Gondorff set-up a number of smaller ruses in order to test Lonnegan and pick out his weaker points before making their big move. The end result is a beautifully crafted con in which Hooker and Gondorff use a series of accomplices to get Lonnegan to bet $500,000 on a horse race.
After the race doesn’t go the way Lonnegan expects, he turns violent (something the conmen knew thanks to their earlier ruses) and Hooker and Gondorff exploit this to their advantage. Following a mass shootout in which both are apparently killed, Lonnegan is taken away assuming that the people who conned him are dead.
Unfortunately, the whole room was in on the con and as the gangster goes off into the night without his money and no way of exacting revenge, Hooker gets up off the floor and the final con is revealed. Perfect.
As we’ve alluded to, gambling isn’t all about luck and that’s something John C. Reilly (playing the character John) learned in Hard Eight.
As the lights go up and the intro fades we find John sitting outside a coffee shop contemplating his woes. Needing $6,000 to bury his mother, John has lost everything but salvation appears in the form of a gambling expert call Sydney.
Feeling the urge to give something back, Sydney shows John how to rely on his wits rather than lady luck when he’s inside a casino. Teaching him everything from how to fool the casino into thinking you’re a high roller to strategies to beat blackjack and roulette, Sydney helps turn John into a winner.
However, as John falls in love with a waitress (and part-time hooker) Clementine (played by Gwyneth Paltrow), it’s clear he’s still as weak as he ever was. Constantly looking to Sydney for guidance and support (even when he starts a fight over Clementine), John isn’t the bombastic casino king he appears to be.
In fact, that’s the point of the film. Away from the plot (which isn’t all that prominent), Hard Eight is about a moment in time, a window into the vulnerable lives of John, Sydney and Clementine backed by the drumbeat of the casino.
If you’re looking for a snapshot of casino life, complete with its ups and downs, then Hard Eight is a must watch movie.
The final gambling movie that’s worth a watch if you like comedy, action and suspense is California Split.
Released in 1974 and starring Elliot Gould and George Segal, California Split is a classic road trip movie that sees Charlie Waters (Gould) and Bill Denny (Segal) take a trip to Tijuana before turning back and heading to Reno for one last roll of the dice.
Filled with near misses, alcohol-fuelled gambling sessions and the highs that come from winning a fortune, this movie certainly captures the hedonistic vibe that runs through the gambling world.
Indeed, beyond the carefully considered strategies, mathematical nuances and money involved in gambling (highlighted in movies such as The Sting and Hard Eight), gambling is downright fun.
Whether it’s online for a few bucks or at casinos across the US, playing casino games is hugely entertaining and that’s what makes California Split, moreover any movie with a gambling twist, make us want to pack our bags and head for Vegas.