There are a few Hollywood movie genres which can be considered as evergreens, never going out of style. While others come and go, the classic thriller, the comedy, and the action drama can always be counted on to deliver exactly what is needed, time and again. Interestingly, casinos, with their shiny opulence and promises of wealth beyond measure, seem to be able to fit in seamlessly with any of these evergreens.
From the funniest, drop-dead comedy blockbusters of recent years, to the tried and true Bond or gangster flick, sticking a few scenes inside a casino is not only guaranteed to add interest, color, and tension, it can even become that other character in the scene. Of course, it’s not only Hollywood that has this near-obsessive fascination with casinos, we as the audience, and as the general public, love them equally. Perhaps even more.
There is something about the allure of casinos. Could it be the bright flashing signs reminiscent of the golden age of Las Vegas or the blinking, incessant noise of slot machines like a sirens call? Maybe it’s that of’ faux posh-ness and skin deep opulence. For many, it all just boils down to the chance to become an overnight millionaire, which brings with it its own sort of celebrity. Heck, let’s just say ‘all of the above’ and call it a day.
Whatever it is, Hollywood has been using casinos, either as a vehicle for the unwinding of a story, the central premise itself or merely as a stunning backdrop to an epic moment or finale. If we were to dare to produce a few examples of the Hollywood and casino love child, what would they be? We know there are far too many to mention here, so perhaps we could get away with a handful of interesting and popular examples? Let’s give it a shot!
Casino – Martin Scorsese 1995
What better way to open our handful of suggestions than with a classic that doesn’t mess about with title or content. This is a hardboiled gangster movie set in the early 70’s in Las Vegas, with a plot centered around a Jewish mobster named Sam Rothstein (Robert De Niro), picked by the Chicago mob to look after their ‘interests’ in Vegas as a more legitimate face in the casino business. Things start to unravel as Rothstein marries a hustler named Ginger (Sharon Stone) and his loose cannon mob enforcer pal Nicky Santoro (Joe Pesci) decides being legit just isn’t good enough.
The Cooler – Wayne Kramer 2003
This bittersweet indie hit stars William H. Macy as Bernie Lootz, the unluckiest guy in the world. Bernie is employed at a Las Vegas casino run by Shelly Kaplow (Alec Baldwin) and, in the old casino parlance, works as a ‘cooler’. Bernie’s luck is so bad that all he needs to do to ‘cool down’ a winning table is to stand next to it! A wonderful must-see movie that shows the darker side to the glitz and glam.
Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas – Terry Gilliam 1998
Possibly one of the craziest examples of how Hollywood use casinos to drive movies. Based on the bestseller by Hunter S. Thompson, the movie stars Johnny Depp as Raoul Duke and Benicio Del Toro as Dr Gonzo, Dukes attorney. Armed with a suitcase full of drugs, the two travel across the desert to cover a motorcycle race taking place outside of Las Vegas. Needless to say chaos ensues as fantasy and reality blur with insane consequences. Love it or hate it, the movie does provide an interesting glimpse into the Las Vegas casinos of the 70’s.
21 – Robert Luketic 2008
Arguably one of the best (and most controversial) Hollywood movies that deal directly with the ‘art’ of card counting in blackjack. Based on true events and adapted from the bestselling book ‘Bringing Down the House’ by Ben Mezrich, the movie version stars Jim Sturgess as Ben Campbell, a promising student at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). Campbell joins a group of students led by college professor Mickey Rosa, played by Kevin Spacey, who apply their math skills to card counting in an effort to bring down the biggest casinos in Las Vegas. This is a great movie with plenty of intense casino scenes and a great insight into card counting techniques used by blackjack players.