The world of big stakes gambling is one that seems almost made to translate to the big screen. The glamour of the casino, the larger than life characters, the tension of risking everything on the turn of a card – and the deeper themes and undercurrents of addiction, desperation and sailing close to the edges of legality and morality.
It is hardly surprising that there have been so many movies that centre around the casino and those who make life changing decisions within its walls. In the internet age, gambling is becoming an increasingly popular pastime – you only need look at a database like https://www.thecasinodb.com to see the huge range of online betting options that are just a mouse click away. In this context, there is also the aspect that modern day viewers have an increased empathy and understanding of the thrill of the slots and the gaming tables.
Classic Gambling Movies
Mention gambling movies and you probably think of the Ocean’s Eleven series or perhaps Casino Royale or any one of the many other Bond films where the blackjack table or roulette wheel featured large. Or who can forget the high stakes poker game between Paul Newman and Robert Shaw in the 1973 classic The Sting?
These are all laudable enough, and make for an entertaining two or so hours of escapism, but there is one movie that has captured the highs and lows of gambling in a way that no other has yet to do. If a realistic portrayal of addiction is what you are searching for, then look no further than Rupert Wyatt’s 2014 masterpiece The Gambler.
The Human Condition
The film is loosely based on the 1867 novel by Fyodor Dostoyevsky, a man who wrote from the heart, having himself been seriously addicted to the roulette tables throughout the 1860s. He also knows plenty about love, loss and the human condition. All these themes are tackled head on in the movie, but be prepared for an uncompromising ride. One thing that Dostoyevsky was not famed for was comic relief or one-liners.
The 2014 movie brings the action from 19th century Germany to modern day Los Angeles, and stars Mark Wahlberg in what is comfortably his most meaty role to date, and boy, how he pulls it off. As anti-heroes go, his character Jim Bennett has it all. Charisma and a desire to do what’s right countered by psychological scars, low self esteem and a crippling addiction that makes him his own worst enemy.
If you want fun and laughter or are seeking the escapism of gun fights, car chases and explosions, keep moving on, there is nothing to see here. But if you are prepared to focus your attention and explore the unglamorous side of addiction and how one man’s very identity can ultimately be dictated by the turn of a card or the roll of the dice, this is a film you will end up watching again and again.