There’s no backdrop quite like a casino for conjuring up a whole range of emotions. Whether it’s the thrill and excitement of the game, the tension watching an important hand unfold, the glitz and glamour of the bright lights, or even a sense of unease in a shady joint, the casino offers a way to recreate the peaks and troughs of every human emotion. It’s no surprise then that so many directors choose this as a setting for their films. Here are our favorites.
Interestingly, Molly’s Game director, Aaron Sorkin, was explicit in his disbelief that his film was a poker movie. Of course, he is the director so we must treat his opinion with the respect it deserves, but poker is certainly a central theme in this underground thriller. Although Molly begins the film as an Olympic skier, she quickly finds herself swept up into the world of underground poker, holding tournaments for progressively higher stakes.
Some of the scenes go further than the basic strategy, including some of the more nuanced variations of the game. In many other films that are widely considered ‘poker movies’ the attention to the detail of the game is not so great. If we compare Molly’s Game to Casino Royale, then poker seems just as integral to the plotline and the gaming scenes possibly a little more accurate. Whether Aaron Sorkin’s comment was designed to spark controversy or not, it can’t be argued that Molly’s Game is one of the great modern poker movies.
Bad Times at the El Royale
This 2016 film, written and directed by Drew Goddard, took its inspiration from one of the most infamous casinos in the United States, Lake Tahoe’s Cal Neva Resort and Casino. This casino was a favorite haunt of many an A-lister and had more than its fair share of myths and legends surrounding it. The hotel was divided in two by a line that ran right the way through it, separating it into the states of Nevada and California. Similarly, the El Royale where Goddard’s film is set makes reference to many of Neva Resort’s most well-known features, perhaps most sinisterly the games room where a truly outstanding roulette scene takes place.
If you like your casino backdrops with an enormous dose of suspense and terror, then the roulette scene in Bad Times at the El Royale will definitely float your boat. Suffice it to say that whether the wheel lands on red or black, somebody is going to pay the ultimate price. This film is suspenseful and deceptive from start to end, a true guessing game, set in a hotel that is at the same time terrifying and glamorous.
If you’re after a film that’s casino set from start to end then you can’t go far wrong with Mississippi Grind. This film tells the tale of Curtis and Gerry, a couple of guys that rather fall into each other’s path and end up striking up a friendship. In order to solve their money worries, the two embark on an adventure down to New Orleans along the Mississippi river, dropping in at various casinos on the way. Some of the most exhilarating scenes come in the form of big casino wins and big casino losses.
Perhaps the most elating scene is in Memphis where the two finally begin to see luck on their side after Gerry has a disastrous loss in a game of Texas Hold ’em. Their bet comes in at the blackjack table and feeling invincible they bet all of their remaining money on a game of craps and win. Half a million dollars up, the two splash out on a luxury meal and discuss the plans for their winnings. Although the luck of the draw certainly doesn’t always go their way, it’s a great film, with twists and turns, but ultimately a beautiful bromance and a half million dollar payout. A perfect happy ending.