From the mundane life of middle-class families to complex political questions and historical events that changed the lives of millions, any theme can be successfully tackled in a movie. That said, some topics are simply more tempting for filmmakers than others. With all the glamour and excitement associated with them, casinos are undoubtedly one such subject.
Here we’ll take a look at some of the most famous depictions of casinos and gambling in modern cinematography.
This movie tells the story of Mike McDermott (Matt Damon), a university student buried in debt, who gambles to pay off his student loans, and ends up abandoning his studies to pursue the career of a poker player. In this film, gambling is shown as an acceptable career path and a legitimate source of income. For example, in a memorable scene from the movie, one of the characters – the dean of the law school McDermott dropped out of – says that “We can’t run from who we are; our destiny chooses us.” What he means, apparently, is that Mike’s too good at gambling to stop doing it.
Like Rounders, many films depict casinos and gambling as exciting, glamorous, cool, and don’t bother too much with the consequences of problem gambling. But that’s not always the case.
“Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas” is a classic of Hollywood cinematography; it details the escapades of a journalist (Johnny Depp) and his lawyer (Benicio Del Toro) who travel to Las Vegas to cover a sports event in Sin City. Throughout the whole movie, the two are under the influence of various drugs, which is reflected in the way Las Vegas is depicted in this movie: as a nightmarish sort of place, where time and space are often distorted, full of loud music, neon lights, and populated by bizarre characters.
Another 1998 movie depicts casinos from a professional dealer’s point of view and shows the less-than-glamorous side of gambling we rarely get a glimpse of. It portrays an aspiring writer Jack Manfred, played by Clive Owen, whose career takes a strange turn as he becomes a croupier at a big casino. The work provides him with inspiration and enough experience to write his novel, but he also finds himself stuck in the corrupt world of gambling, among cheating croupiers and robbers disguised as gamblers.
Croupier shows how a regular person who willingly enters the world of gambling and casinos could have a hard time getting out of it even when all the initial motivation is gone, just like in that famous Godfather quote: “Just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in.”
Casinos and gambling appear in the Sci-Fi movie genre as well, and the most notable example is Star Wars. In the world-famous space opera, gambling isn’t limited to Earth: It’s present in other parts of the Universe as well. What’s more, in Star Wars, there’s a whole planet dedicated to gambling called Canto Casino, reminiscent of “our” Las Vegas and Monte Carlo. In fact, some of the iconic scenes from Star Wars are built around gambling: Just remember Han Solo and his golden dice.
If you think there can’t be romance in casino movies, you’re wrong. The Cooler, first shown at the Sundance Film Festival, tells the story of Bernie Lootz (William H. Macy), a “cooler” – a casino employee believed to have such bad luck that it can rub off on players – who falls in love with a cocktail waitress working at the same casino. Lootz fears his bad luck will ruin his chances with her, so he focuses on changing his luck throughout the movie.
Lastly, some movies dissect the complex problem of gambling addiction. The main character of The Gambler is college literature professor Jim Bennett (Mark Wahlberg), who’s addicted to gambling. The movie depicts the deterioration of his mental state as he moves down the path of self-destruction.
As an integral part of our world – our economics, our love and work lives, our leisure – gambling has long since found its way to movie theatres. And even though movies in which casinos are shown in all of their glory are prevalent, some take a different approach and enrich our experience by examining gambling from a completely unexpected perspective.