Casino glamour and life style has always been a fascinating subject and a frequently exploited theme in different artistic fields, including casino movies.
There are numerous novels and even songs dedicated to bohemian lives of gamblers and the adrenaline rush that such existence implies. From Dostoyevsky’s novel The Gambler to the legendary song House of the Rising Sun, they all capture the passion and illusive triumphs of casino dwellers.
Still, the true grit and essence of a casino and the exciting yet turbulent lives of its visitors is probably best captured by the 7th art – the art of motion pictures. In this list we will include the best and most impactful movies set under the promising and enticing casino lights.
Casino Movies: “Ocean’s 11”
Probably an inspiration to all subsequent similarly themed movies (at least to a certain extend) “Ocean’s 11” has without a doubt put together the coolest and more charismatic cast than any other movie in the cinematic history. This remark alone is enough to make you realize we are not talking about the 2001 remake which tried to replicate the charm of the original product.
Consisting of the acting profession royalties and infamous members of Rat Pack that everybody wanted to be a part of, “Ocean’s 11” features Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Jr, Angie Dickinson and other Hollywood legends that used to grace the silver screens.
The plot revolves around Danny Ocean’s scheme to rip off Las Vegas casinos at the stroke of midnight on New Year’s eve, with his crew of war veterans.
The story unfolds with all of the character’s different motives coming into the mix, finally culminating on the night of the heist.
Although the movie itself did not rank well as a cinematic achievement due to plot inconsistencies, it is still a classic in its on rite. After all, who of us did not fantasize about outsmarting a casino. In addition to that, it has brought us some of the most iconic scenes in the history of movie making, where the casino with its lavish scenery and unruly crowd is equally important as any other character.
Our personal favourite is the casino walk through scene, where Frank Sinatra casually strolls across the room with hands in his pockets, surrounded by beautiful and glamorous women sitting at blackjack and roulette tables.
“Ocean’s 11” 2001 Remake
It would not be fair to exclude the “Ocean’s Eleven” 2001 version from the list. Although failing to revive the spirit of the original, the script and the plot deserve to be mentioned and placed on any list counting down the most prominent casino movies.
Dealing with the heist on a higher level, “Ocean’s Eleven” remake is a much more elaborated project with a thicker storyline. And one can hardly judge the cast members for not having the sort of effortless “cool” and poise of their predecessors.
Considering the iconic status of the original crew, they had some large shoes to fill, but luckily, the scheme to rob the casinos was placed in the centre of the stage, diverting your attention to the plan’s brilliant simplicity. We are not however deprived of the Sin City’s bright lights and its casinos’ grandeur.
Casino Movies II: “Casino Royale”
The same grandeur that was so impeccably portrayed in “Casino Royale”, a James Bond sequel with truly memorable visual delights.
On a mission to defeat a super villain and a weapon dealer in a high stake poker game in Casino Royale, Daniel Craig as Mr Bond has us all on the edge of our seats, with his strong figure, expressionless face and ice cold blue eyes, glaring at his arch-enemy across the poker table.
The casino scenes are spectacular to say the least – the extravagance, the decadence and glorified indulgence of all senses, the blinding lights reflecting of the roulette wheels and expensive gowns of casino beauties, and finally, the smooth and elegant 007 at a poker table with an aura of mystery and danger around him – the experience one can only seek and find in the midst of tobacco clouded casino rooms.
Casino Movies III: “21”
A slightly less romantic turn on the lives of casino clientele is a 2008 movie “21”, inspired by true events of the infamous MIT team.
The story centres on a brilliant technology student, Ben, who earns his tuition by counting cards together with the group of his equally bright and gifted classmates.
Led by their professor, the group develops a complex and successful network of signals, and we watch the protagonist slowly spiralling down the road of luxury and deception, sacrificing along the way a part of his life that does not belong to the casino.
Here, we see a different side of gambling, one that is dynamic, greedy and dangerous, but still strangely enticing.
The scene where Ben slowly paces among casino tables, “reading” his crew members’ signals before sitting at the blackjack table and beginning to count cards is probably the best portrayal of the rush and appeal of casino gambling.
Casino Movies IV: “Casino”
What better way to end this list then with the movie where the casino is the lead and the actors are merely the supporting characters.
In Martin Scorsese’s 1995 masterpiece “Casino” we witness the rise and fall of three main characters whose lives are contrasted against Tangiers Casino, the embodiment of glam, sin, fast life and quick success.
Looking at how their lives intertwine, leading all three to an inevitable downfall, we can’t help but feel that the casino platform is more than just a centre stage – it is rather a character of its own that will continue to live, breath and entice long after the protagonists are dethroned and forgotten.
Casino here is both the starting and the ending point, forever seducing the moths and burning them with its merciless flame.
So far, this remains one of the best and the most authentic casino movies ever made, brilliantly exposing a side of Las Vegas glamour hidden under Sin City’s blinding lights.
Last, we cannot finish our review with the best Poker movie of all times, The Rounders with Matt Damon and Edward Norton.