Spoiler Warning

Always assume Spoilers and possible profanity in context. These are often adult themed movies.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Top Ten Gambling Movies

The world of gambling is a fixture in crime movies for obvious reasons. The idea of luck and "easy" money will always draw out the criminal element. The casino world in particular can support any number of shady figures and occupations, including loan sharks, leg breakers, card cheaters, and heisters, not to mention organized crime figures, who like nothing more than high volumes of money pouring in as a natural means to clean money obtained from other enterprises, combined with the profit factor from a never ending stream of losers. The gambling isn't always conventional either, any career criminal is gambling in a way, trying to come out ahead when their occupation contains dire and possibly fatal consequences. They continue though, convinced they'll get lucky. Some can't resist the idea of an enormous payoff, no matter what risk is in the way. Even more troubling though, are those for whom no payoff is enough, as if self destruction is the best pay off of all. A real gambler just can't quit while he's ahead because then he would lose the power to risk it all, and wouldn't be gambling anymore.

Here are my top ten picks. Feel free to add your own suggestions, as there are many others out there I'm sure I've overlooked.

10) Heat

Burt Reynolds is Nick Escalante or "Mex," an ex mercenary well known for his skill with his hands and with knives.He lives in LasVegas where he has a "chaperone" business, taking odd jobs that involve his skill set such as bodyguard gigs. Mex has his own set of standards determined by his moral code. When an ex girlfriend is abused by an entitled mobster, she turns to Mex to get payback. At the same time, he's hired by a mild mannered young guy, Cyrus, (Peter McNichol) who has money, but wants to know how to be tough. Mex and Cyrus start becoming friends and Mex shares his goal of moving to Venice. Although he briefly has enough money to accomplish his dream, we get a glimpse of Mex's real problem when he immediately gambles it away. His dealings with DeMarco get increasingly violent until a predictable final showdown, where everyone gets what's coming to them.

Luck is riding on my shoulders. Luck is right here with me.I want you to hit the nineteen with a two, because 19 and 2 is 21. That means I win. Give me my two, Cassie. -Mex

9) The Cooler

Bernie Lootz (William H. Macy) is a "cooler" in Las Vegas at the Shangri La Casino, working for Shelly Kaplow (Alec Baldwin) who once cured Bernie's gambling problem by breaking his knees. He lives a dreary and lonely life, showing up at the casino to rob the luck of any customer on a hot streak, and then going back to his small apartment with little interaction with anyone. When a waitress named Natalie (Maria Bello) becomes interested in Bernie, everything starts changing, starting with his luck, which greatly compromises his abilities as a cooler. Shelly isn't willing to let Bernie off the hook however, as he's already frustrated with his business partners pushing to modernize the Shangri La. He discovers that Maria falling for him is not quite what it appeared to be and he has to decide whether to trust her or not, as well as how to reconcile his obligations, hoping to start things over if his new luck holds up.

Lootz is Kryptonite on a stick.-Shelly Kaplow

8) The Cincinnati Kid

Steve McQueen is The Cincinnati Kid, a poker player convinced he's the best there is. To prove that though, he has to beat the renowned Lancey Howard (Edward G. Robinson.) While he has offers to help him get an unfair advantage, he insists that it only counts if he beats Lancey fairly. His focus is challenged by his girlfriend, Christian (Tuesday Weld) who wants more from him, and his friend Shooter's (Karl Malden) wife, Melba (Ann Margaret) who also has an interest in The Kid. Lancey's success has gained him many enemies, and the pressure for the Kid to accept a little help increases, making it difficult for him to stick to his


Listen, Christian, after the game, I'll be The Man. I'll be the best there is. People will sit down at the table with you, just so they can say they played with The Man. And that's what I'm gonna be, Christian.-The Cincinnati Kid

7) Owning Mahowny

Dan Mahowny (Phillip Seymour Hoffman) is a very successful assistant bank manager at the Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce.To all appearances, he's serious about his work and mild mannered otherwise. They don't realize that Mahowny has a serious gambling problem, which is only made worse by the easy access to funds that his job gives him. Mahowny figures out ways to get money from the bank undetected and gambles it away in Atlantic City as soon as he gets it. No matter how much he wins, he keeps betting it all again, until his obsession catches up with him, his luck runs out, and others catch on. If a problem is big enough you can't keep it hidden forever.

I have a... financial problem. A shortfall. -Dan Mahowny

6) Croupier

Jack Manfred (Clive Owen) imagines himself a writer, except that he can't seem to write or pay the bills. He's surprised to be offered a job via his estranged father, as a croupier at a casino, which is an easy fit for him as he had croupier experience in the past and has a clear talent for it.He soon finds himself immersed in the gambling culture, including the schemes and drama of his fellow employees and the gamblers around him. While he professes a strict code of ethics, his behavior shows more flexibility than he admits. He soon sees himself as a character in the novel he's been planning to write, and his disconnect puts him in the middle of what seems to be a more exciting life, although not without great cost to the guy he used to be.

Welcome back Jack, to the house of addiction. -Jack Manfred

5)The Gambler

Axel Freed (James Caan) is a literature professor who loves the work of Dostoevsky. He's also a guy with a serious gambling problem. He's held in high regard by everyone around him, his girlfriend Bille (Lauren Hutton) and his supportive family. Axel ends up deeply in debt to his bookie, Hips (Paul Sorvino) who promises consequences if Axel doesn't take care of his debt. He borrows money from everyone who can get it, mostly Billie and his mother, only to gamble it away again, leaving him as broke as he was before. Finally he thinks of a scheme to straighten things out, although it has a high moral cost for him, and a student who's involved. It becomes clear that as low as he is, Axel has a long way to go before he hits bottom. He won't stop until he destroys himself.

"I play in order to lose. That’s what gets my juice going. If I only bet on the games I know, I could at least break even.” -Axel Freed

4) The Hustler

Fast Eddie Felson (Paul Newman) is a gifted pool hustler who's too big for his surroundings. He thinks he's the best there is until he's beaten by the legendary Minnesota Fats (Jackie Gleason) Fast Eddie spends a long time rebuilding his confidence, with the help of Sarah Packard (Piper Laurie,) a young girl who falls in love with him. Of course it's only a matter of time before Fast Eddie becomes obsessed with going after Minnesota Fats again. He enlists the help of shady manager Bert Gordon (George C. Scott) to arrange it, although Bert makes no secret of the fact that he thinks Eddie is a talented loser. It becomes clear that win or lose the match and his obsession will cost him more than he ever imagined.

I'm the best you ever seen, Fats. I'm the best there is. And even if you beat me, I'm still the best. 
-Fast Eddie Felson

3) Intacto

Samuel Berg (Max von Sydow), is a casino owner who also holds an annual high stakes contest, which ends every year with him being the luckiest man alive. His employee Federico (Eusebio Poncela) grows tired of living in Berg's shadow and decides to go out on his own. Before he leaves, Samuel touches a horrified Federico, removing his luck. This sends Federico in search of the luckiest people alive, singling out Tomás (Leonardo Sbaraglia) the lone survivor of a plane crash. Federico takes Tomás on a tour of an underground circuit where their paths cross with others who trade in luck, in hopes of returning to Samuel's casino to beat him in his annual contest. Of course, everything doesn't go as planned and luck isn't quite everything Federico assumes it is.

Nobody's ever come here out of love. -Samuel Berg

2) Casino

Ace Rothstein (Robert DeNiro) is the mobster in charge of the Tangiers casino,
and Nicky Santoro (Joe Pesci) is his psychotic muscle. We watch their individual fortunes, and the greater mob involvement, change in the 70's and 80's. Ace's biggest problem is Ginger McKenna (Sharon Stone) a grifter who he knows is only out for his money, yet he can't free himself from her. Nicky's temper and lack of loyalty to his employers is his main source of misfortune. As the FBI starts showing more of an active interest in the casinos, the pressure on the Mob increases until the glory days Ace and Nicky and their bosses disintegrate.

In the casino, the cardinal rule is to keep them playing and to keep them coming back. The longer they play, the more they lose, and in the end, we get it all.-Ace Rothstein

1)Bob le Flambeur (Bob the Gambler)

Bob (Roger Duchesne) is an aging ex con, who has been around the block.While he's comfortable being a criminal, he lives his life with a certain code of decency and presentation. He's well liked in his community, especially by young Paolo (Daniel Cauchy) who looks to him as a mentor. Bob hears about an opportunity for the perfect heist and starts planning. his life is complicated when he rescues young Anne (Isabelle Corey,) from a pimp. She soon ends up involved with Paolo, who seeking to impress her, tells her about the heist. She in turn tells the pimp, who tells Police Inspector Ledru (Guy Decomble.)  Ledru resolves to stop the heist and tries to find Bob to warn him not to do it. Bob, however, is already occupied in the casino with an unbelievable winning streak, at least until everyone else arrives. Bob Le Flambeur was also remade by Neil Jordan's as "The Good Thief" and P.T. Anderson, as "Hard Eight."

Look, my luck's coming back! -Bob


le0pard13 said...

Great to see someone mention 'Heat', that other one, Brent. Timely, as I'll give it a name-drop tomorrow ;-).

Fine list, for sure. 'Casino' remains a thoroughly underrated film, especially for Scorsese. More people need to see 'The Gambler', James Caan was excellent in that.

I do need to catch up with 'Intacto' and 'Bob le Flambeau', though, since you have them so high. I also like 'California Split' and the more recent 'Rounders', too. Thanks, Brent.

Anonymous said...

Great list. I confess I haven't seen Heat in years. I should probably should do so that I can compare The Stath to Burt Reynolds. (Statham is playing Nick "Wild" and not "Escalente". I doubt that they could get away with the nickname "Mex" today.)
I'd never heard of your #7 - Owning Mahoney. (Apparently I slept through festival season in 2003.) I'll look for it.
I'll always have a soft spot for your #6 - Croupier because, well...Clive Owen, nuff said.

INDBrent said...

@Michael. thanks! Yeah it's not a perfect movie but Reynolds really got the part down. I think Casino may be Scorsese's "biggest" movie, just in the amount of territory it covers. I agree about the Gambler, it's just criminally under the radar for how good it is. Let me know how you like "Intacto" it's got a great sensibility and delves deeply into the nature of luck.

INDBrent said...

@weetiger, Thanks! Just last night I was wondering how Statham could get away with a nickname like "Mex." "Owning Mahowney" is an interesting one. It's based on a true story, and comes across pretty low key, but I like Seymour Hoffman in most anything. Owen is definitely terrific in "Croupier." It's another overlooked gem.

Cary Watson said...

Great list, but I think California Split with Elliot Gould and George Segal needs to be on there.

INDBrent said...

Thanks, Cary. Haven't seen that one, but with those two in it I'll have to hunt it down.

Lana Hechtman Ayers said...

A couple I haven't seen and need to put on my list. Really enjoyed all the ones you've listed here. Just out of curiosity, how would you rate the Oceans movies?

INDBrent said...

Thanks, Lana! I like all of the Oceans movies quite a lot, both the originals and the newer ones. They're a lot of fun, but they don't really get into the seedier elements of the gambling world.

Blakeson said...

John Dahl's "Rounders" (1998); a little obvious, but John Malkovich's Russian accent needs to be experienced.

"Big Deal At Dodge City" (1966)aka "A Big Hand For The Little Lady"; Henry Fonda and Joanne Woodward in the Old West. No spoilers.

Unknown said...

Good article. I haven't seen half of the movies but they're now on my 'to watch' list. I'm surprised you liked Intacto so much, I didn't know it was famous beyond our borders (I'm Spanish). I think it is a great story.

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