Aug
20
2019

Card Counters, Coolers and Secret Agents: Four of the Best Gambling Movies of All Time

Casinos, gambling, and exotic locales have fascinated moviegoers since the earliest days of film, and that interest shows no sign of waning. In the 1930s, the stars of the silver screen were gambling in Rio de Janeiro and Monte Carlo while today, most films take place in the glamorous casinos of Las Vegas, but the glitz and drama are the same. Here is a list of four of the best gambling movies in recent decades.

“The Cooler”

This quirky romance stars William H. Macy as Bernie Lootz, one of the unluckiest men in the world. His luck is so bad that it rubs off on those around him, so he works as a cooler at the Shangri-La Casino. His boss, the dangerous Shelly Kaplow (Alec Baldwin), pays him to stand next to people on a winning streak, and inevitably, their luck changes. Unfortunately for Kaplow, Bernie falls in love with a waitress, Natalie (Maria Bello), and his luck starts to change for the better.

“The Cooler” is a dark comedy with plenty of funny moments. However, there is lots of suspense as well as Bernie and Natalie attempt to escape Kaplow, who is a violent criminal with ties to organized crime.

This film is worth seeing for the cast alone. Alec Baldwin is notable for the stellar way he portrays Kaplow, an older criminal who mostly hands off the dirty work but remains more dangerous than he looks. William H. Macy plays the kind but unlucky Bernie to perfection. The contrast between his depressed mannerisms early in the movie and his joyful behavior after falling in love is striking. Maria Bello is also excellent as Natalie, a charming and fun-loving waitress with a few secrets herself.

“Rain Man”

This story about a successful Los Angeles car dealer and his autistic brother became an instant classic when it was released in 1988. It stars Tom Cruise as Charlie, the cutthroat car dealer whose main mission in life is to earn money, and Dustin Hoffman as Raymond, the autistic savant. When the movie begins, Charlie is under heavy financial pressure and learns that his father has died, leaving his sizeable estate to Raymond, the brother Charlie never knew he had. Charlie develops a cynical plan to exploit Raymond in order to gain a share of his father’s estate. Along the way, he notices that Raymond has amazing recall abilities and decides to head to Las Vegas and use Raymond’s skills at a casino. However, the events of that trip change Charlie substantially.

Although the time in Las Vegas is a relatively small part of the movie, it is one of the most memorable gambling movies of all time. It popularized the idea of counting cards, as well as introducing the idea of the autistic savant to popular consciousness.

Dustin Hoffman and Tom Cruise are excellent in this movie. Hoffman is especially notable for his believable portrayal of a man with severe autism.

“Casino Royale”

“Casino Royale,” based on the book of the same name, is the first movie in the reboot of the James Bond series starring Daniel Craig as the titular secret agent. The film shows Bond near the start of his career. The movie follows his attempts to thwart the sinister Le Chiffre (Mads Mikkelson), a mysterious character who is trying to finance terrorists. Le Chiffre is also a notorious gambler, so Bond’s strategy is to bankrupt him during a high-stakes poker game.

“Casino Royale” stands out from many modern gambling movies by avoiding Las Vegas. Instead, the poker game takes place in Montenegro, a small country in southeastern Europe. The picturesque location provides a memorable background to the action, which is everything you’d expect from a James Bond movie.

Daniel Craig plays an excellent Bond, although fans of the old movies may struggle to get used to him. This movie portrays him as both rougher and more emotional, although he can still play the suave gentleman when he wants to. His love interest is Vesper Lynd (Eva Green), a charming and seemingly innocent treasury agent assigned to keep an eye on the money he is given for gambling. Judi Dench as M rounds out the top-notch cast.

“21″

“21″ takes viewers back to Las Vegas for the story of a group of MIT students, led by a charismatic professor (Kevin Spacey), who become an elite card-counting team bent on beating the casinos. The film centers on Ben Campbell (Jim Sturgess), who was just accepted into Harvard Medical School but cannot afford the tuition. He joins the card-counting team as a way to raise the funds he needs, but quickly gets caught up in the glamour and easy money of his new lifestyle. The team develops elaborate methods to avoid detection and guarantee wins, but struggles to stay ahead of the casinos that use cutting-edge technology to recognize card counters. The stress also causes rifts within the group as teammates turn on each other and fight over money.

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