There is something unputdownable about books written of characters that seem to live their lives on the edge. The movies with characters that seem to make one wrong risky decision after another are more fun to watch than those with the cop who hangs his boots and settles into mushroom farming in his garage. The restlessness and even recklessness of risk-takers allow most of us to live vicariously through their adventures.
The gambling industry is rife with risk-takers and thrill chasers, so the storylines are never a bore. The number of movies with gambling themes is evident in how much content this industry has.
These four movies are totally worth watching.
California Split – 1974
Bill Denny and Charlie Waters are two strangers who bond over being beaten up and robbed by a card player they beat at a game. They have one thing in common; their love for gambling. Charlie lives with two prostitutes and gambles on anything from poker to horse racing and boxing as he watches the next score. Bill has his life together a little better than Charlie because he has a full-time job at a magazine that he hates, but his nights are dedicated to the casinos.
As the two spend more time together, Bill becomes hooked to gambling, just as Charlie. Since he is quite the gambler, the two pool their resources together and head on to Reno, where Bill is scheduled to participate in a poker tournament. Also, during the movie, Charlie spots the man who beat them up and robbed them and returns the favor. Bill bags $18,000 at Reno, which propels him to keep playing as he is on a winning streak. He keeps at it, but he starts losing at some point, something that makes him sad and a little miserable. They agree to split the winnings, each pocketing $82,000, but here’s where the adventure ends for Bill. He tells Charlie he is going back home, and though this makes no sense to Charlie, he sets his friend free after seeing how sincerely he wants to make a change in his life.
This movie centers around Sam Lowry, a government employee who, in his dreams, is a winged superman on a mission to save a damsel in distress. His job is a bore, and he lives this predictable life in a polluted, bureaucratic city that he doesn’t like too much. The year is 1985, so you have land-based gambling houses here as opposed to a casino online in Brazil. One day while at work, a fly jams the government printer Sam uses and causes a mistake that leads to the assassination of a cobbler, Archibald Buttle, instead of suspected terrorist Archibald Tuttle.
The events that follow are like a scene from a video game as Sam and Tuttle become unlikely allies who save each other several times. The damsel in distress that Sam has been protecting in his dreams comes to life, and he has the chance to do the right thing. Critiques have said this movie resembles the country it is named for in almost every sense.
The Gambler (1974)
1974 was clearly a good year for casino-themed movies. Axel Freed’s day job is teaching at a top New York University. His students love his interpretation of Fyodor Dostoevsky’s work, and overall, he is s likable guy. His personal life isn’t half-bad. He has a beautiful partner in Billie, a doting mother who is also a doctor and a wealthy grandfather. Axel’s bookie, Hips, likes the professor, but he has a business to run, and so he threatens bodily harm if his $44,000 is not paid soon. The good prof asks his mother for help, and she gives him the money to offset this debt, albeit disapprovingly.
When Axel asks Billie why she is with him, yet he cannot seem to have his life together and is overall unworthy of her affections, she tells him she likes his dangerous life. She even entertains the thought of bloodshed. With Billie in tow and the money he just got from his mother, the professor heads off to Las Vegas, where he turns the $44,000 into a small fortune that he later loses in basketball bets. Eventually, he evens things out by convincing one of his students, who also happens to be a star basketball player, to throw a game for a share of the winnings. After collecting his money and paying off Hips’ debts, he confesses to his bookie that he likes losing and that he could win easily but often chose to lose for the thrill. Winning, he says, brings him no lasting excitement.
Uncut Gems (2019)
Howard Ratner has a complicated life. He runs a jewelry shop -KMH – in the heart of New York, has a gambling debt, a wife, Dinah, who is divorcing him right after Passover, and a girlfriend, Julia, who works at his shop. He is also indebted to his loan-shark brother-in-law, Arno. In 2012, an Ethiopian miner had found a rare black opal that Howard managed to smuggle into the country. Basketball star Kevin Garnett comes to KMH with Howard’s partner and is so mesmerized by the rare gem that he asks to carry it for the games that night for good luck. His collateral is his championship ring. Howard reluctantly accepts the deal.
Howard places a bet on Garnett playing exceptionally well, as he does. The win should have netted him $600,000, but Arno blocked it since the best was made with his money. Garnett keeps the ring a little longer and eventually bids for it at $175,000, which Howard takes although he had hoped for more. Later, he finds a way to have Julia place a bet for him based on a win that Garnett would deliver, and when it materializes, Howard’s winnings total $1.2 million. Unfortunately, he is killed before he can collect these winnings that end up with Julia.
Don’t Believe Just Watch!
The one thing you can count on is to be entertained by a gambling-themed movie. The risks gamblers take to score are numbing, and the physical assault their bodies can take is sometimes a little surprising. Don’t take our word for it; watch any of the titles above to see what we mean.