One of the great things about the cinema is its ability to immerse us in places and situations we would never otherwise experience. This isn’t just about walking on Mars or the decks of a doomed Titanic, some of the best films place us in surreal moments where the stakes are suddenly incredibly high. This can be a foolish plan to mimic the undead, hoping to make it unnoticed to safety, or a sudden declaration of love as someone else’s wedding is about to begin, the last-minute dash through a crowded airport – you get the idea.
Today, we’re taking a look at those high stakes moments in film that involve games to see how writers and directors have imbued casual pastimes or occasions with all the weight of the world.
Casino Royale (2006)
It’s unlikely that James Bond ever sat down to do a jigsaw puzzle, nor is it likely that he ever whiled away the evening at Skyfall Lodge with a pint of Nesquik and a game of Monopoly with the family. No, for Bond all games are high stakes. His films are littered with moments where the turn of the card, the positioning of the queen, the run of the green or the toss of the hat are life and death. He’d have loved Mouse Trap though. Or this.
In Casino Royale, Daniel Craig’s first outing as the sour-faced secret agent, Bond’s usual favourite of baccarat is replaced by a fierce game of Texas hold ’em. His tense face off with Mads Mikkelsen makes the scene, and director Martin Campbell squeezes ever moment of tension of the play. Most people prefer their casinos online now, and this scene gives you a good idea of exactly why.
Crazy Rich Asians (2018)
Jon M Chu’s adaptation of Kevin Kwan’s bestseller was a massive success last year. In the risk-averse, White, Western haven of Hollywood, the film was rightly hailed for being one of the brightest stars in an increasingly more diverse sky. The film is ostensibly a rom-com, however there are far more complex elements of identity, generational expectation, and gender politics at play here.
One of the most intriguing and pivotal scenes in the movie is the Mahjong scene, in which Constance Wu’s Rachel sits down with her potential Mother-in-Law (a steely Michelle Yeoh). Everything that brings them to the table is suddenly up for grabs, with nuptials and identities on the line. It’s a great scene, told with a keen eye on the emotional hands the characters are playing. Vulture have an excellent breakdown of the scene right here.
Bill and Ted’s Bogus Journey (1991)
Next year we’ll see Bill and Ted back to Face the Music, and the world is certainly in need of their message of peace, lifelong friendship and air-guitar celebrations. Seriously – we could all learn a lot from the two of them. Also back for the third film is Death, as played by a ghostfaced William Sadler.
Lampooning Ingmar Bergman’s The Seventh Seal, a most austere and sober meditation on life and death, Bill and Ted’s dice with Death is very funny, thanks mainly to an increasingly irritated Grim Reaper. Take a look below to relive the scene, and remember – when Death comes calling just break out the Battleship.
Special Bonus Mention: NUKE ‘EM!
Dark as night satire courtesy of Paul Verhoeven, this is one of the many instances in 1987’s Robocop when the wider, darker world is hinted at. Mixing the suburban ideal of a family game night with the very real predicament of a worldwide apocalypse is vintage Verhoeven – nuclear family indeed.