Casinos are an excellent backdrop for excitement and adrenaline. The fast-paced, heart-pumping moments of high stakes make perfect settings for the twists and turns of action films. There have been many movies over the years that have helped to define the “casino” genre. From tense and gripping poker games to mobsters and heists, here are some of my favourites.
Perhaps the most well-known classic in the genre, the Martin Scorsese film Casino was released in 1995 and told the story of two mobsters living and working in Las Vegas.
Ace Rothstein is a smooth casino operator with mafia connections. Nicky Santoro is a reckless strongman enforcer who takes care of the rougher affairs; his behaviour eventually puts both of their lives in danger. To complicate matters, Ace, played by Robert De Niro, falls in love with hustler Ginger, played by the lovely Sharon Stone.
Casino takes us on an action-packed, breakneck ride through the seedy aspects of Vegas in the 70s and 80s, with motives of greed, power, money and murder running deep.
A slightly more modern film that is quickly becoming a classic in its own right, 21 (2008) is a film about a nutty MIT math professor and a young student, Ben Campbell, whose working-class background means that he cannot afford to pay the $300,000 tuition to train to be a doctor. Ben meets the professor, who invites him to secret meetings where he is taught how to card count in blackjack, along with other students. Based on a true story, 21 is about hustling, hedonism and betrayal, with most of the action taking place on the tables.
Next up is Ocean’s Eleven, still one of the coolest heist films ever made. Danny Ocean, played by George Clooney, recruits an all-star team of colleagues and criminal specialists to assist him with the robbery of three of Las Vegas’ major casinos: the Bellagio, Mirage and MGM Grand. On a major boxing event night, the casinos must have enough cash on the premises to cover patrons’ wagers. The collective total is expected to be around $150 million. Nice!
With actors like Brad Pit, Julia Roberts and Matt Damon involved, Ocean’s Eleven is full of tension and action, but gets a big thumb up for the sheer entertainment of watching the characters formulate and initiate their plot. Well worth a watch!
My final favourite casino film is Casino Royale, the 2006 addition to the Bond series, written by Ian Fleming and produced by Martin Campbell. In this movie, Bond meets evil banker Le Chiffre, and then participates in an all-or-nothing poker game for just about as high stakes as possible.
Set in Monte Carlo, Casino Royale features some of the tensest poker action you can ever imagine, together with plenty of what you would usually expect from a Bond film — nifty dialogue, outrageous gun fights and a stunning performance from the beautiful Eva Green.
There are so many casino films that have made my heart beat faster — too many to mention here! Honourable mentions go to The Sting, Rounders and The Croupier.