Some oppose it, others embrace it, and many consider it a great way to have fun – but not many are left indifferent by gambling.
Some people consider it the trade of the Devil himself. Others think of it as a fascinating pastime, part forbidden fruit, part exciting entertainment. Many people know it casually, playing casino games at social networks or visiting a Las Vegas casino during their vacations. And some find it exciting enough to make movies about it, allowing viewers to learn a thing or twoÂ about splashing the cash at the casino or at a poker table in a pretty romanticised fashion.
Gambling is a tool often used to build the plot of movies. But the movies that feature gambling in one form or another are not about gambling most of the time. But there are movies that choose this controversial pastime as their main topic, movies that are often overlooked by audiences. Today, we’ll introduce you to a few of them in a bit more depth.
Mike McDermott (Matt Damon) is a law student who also happens to be a gifted poker player. His dream is to play in the World Series of Poker, sitting next to his poker pro idol Johnny Chan. His dreams seem to shatter when he loses all his bankroll to Russian mobster (and poker room owner) Teddy “KGB” (John Malkovich). He seemingly gives up poker, focusing on law school instead, at least until his childhood friend, Lester “Worm” Murphy (Edward Norton) is released from prison and seeks him out. To cut things short, after a series of high-stakes games and beatings due to cheating on Worm’s part, Mike is once again facing his nemesis, KGB, in a poker showdown – and the stakes are higher than just money.
The movie is essentially a classic “sports picture” where the talented hero wins, loses, and faces disaster before facing the champ one last time, and it hasn’t done very well at the box office. It does, in turn, have a strong following among poker enthusiasts, and many poker pros – like Brian Rast and Gavin Griffin – have credited it as being the influence that got them into the game.
The Gambler (1974)
The Gambler tells the story of Axel Freed (James Caan), a Harvard-educated English professor with a gambling addiction. His reckless gambling habits push him into debt, which he attempts to pay off with money borrowed from his mother. Instead of paying off his creditors, Axel takes the cash to Vegas and blows it on bets. Things spiral out of control – downward, of course – leading to Axel convincing one of his students, a basketball star, to accept a bribe in exchange for some points shaving.
James Caan was nominated for a Golden Globe for playing the downfall of the gambler. The movie is stunning and intense, and it has one of the best endings ever for a drama.
Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels (1998)
“Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels” is the feature film directorial debut of the famous English director Guy Ritchie, It follows four small-time criminals, Eddy, Tom, Soap, and Bacon take on a fearsome kingpin called “Hatchet” in a high-stakes poker game, only to lose all their money and end up deeply in debt. The four have to find the money to pay off Hatched or see Eddy’s father’s bar be taken as a repayment. The film involves loan sharks, debt collectors (Big Chris, played by Vinnie Jones), pot growers, and small-time crooks, and has a raw and gritty atmosphere.
This movie brought not only director Guy Ritchie into the spotlight, but actors Jason Statham and Vinnie Jones found international fame as its result, too. While it’s not a movie about gambling, it plays an important enough part in the story to count as one. And it’s a hell of a ride.