Tired of stay-at-home measures? Looking for some inspiration to get you through winter while bars, gyms and nightclubs remain shuttered? Then why not channel the ‘inner cool’ of cinema’s most iconic gamblers and play from the comfort of your own home?
But before you check it out, we’d recommend you watch the movies listed below to brush-up on some of the composure you’ll need if you are going to outwit your opponents at the virtual table.
If you want to practice your impenetrable poker face, then you’re going to need to learn from the best. So, here’s our run-down of the most iconic gamblers and gambling scenes in movie history.
SAM ‘ACE’ ROTHSTEIN (ROBERT DE NIRO, CASINO)
Robert De Niro must appear on more lists of ‘the greatest movie stars’ than pretty much any other actor in Hollywood. Whether for his portrayal as Vito Corleone in The Godfather Part Two, Max Cady in Cape Fear or, more recently, Jack Byrnes in Meet the Parents, he has dominated the film industry for decades through his combination of on-screen presence and superb range of acting.
So, it really should come as no surprise that De Niro is also at the centre of arguably the most iconic ever gambling movie — Martin Scorsese’s crime drama, Casino.
His character in the movie, Sam ‘Ace’ Rothstein, is a sports handicapper and gambling expert asked by the Mob to venture down to Las Vegas and run one of their prized casinos.
Compared to some of the other villains portrayed by De Niro throughout his legendary career, Ace is a surprisingly calm character — definitely a trademark of any gambling pro. But unfortunately for Ace, the arrival of his crazy childhood friend, Nicky Santoro (portrayed in the movie by Joe Pesci) sends things spiralling out of control.
This movie is a classic — what we’ve come to expect of the cherished De-Niro and Scorsese cinematic partnership — and an absolute must-see for any gambling movie aficionados. It certainly holds its own against De Niro’s other masterpieces of the 1990s, like Goodfellas and Heat, and offers perhaps cinema’s most epic take on the gambling industry.
RAYMOND ‘RAIN MAN’ BABBITT (DUSTIN HOFFMAN, RAIN MAN)
This might feel like a leftfield choice and Dustin Hoffman’s ‘Rain Man’ certainly isn’t your conventional movie depiction of a gambler. But this film won Best Picture at the Oscars for a reason — with Hoffman also picking up a gong for Best Actor.
Rain Man is a reconciliation between two brothers and the emotional journey they go on after one of them is effectively written out of their father’s will.
Hoffman’s Raymond is an autistic savant with exceptional maths skills and an ability to count cards, beautifully juxtaposed to Tom Cruise’s unscrupulous younger brother, Charlie. His performance at the blackjack table, as he tries to win his brother’s money back, is surely one of the most iconic casino scenes in the history of the silver screen. Who could forget the pair dressed up in matching grey suits and white shirts as they travel down the escalator and into the bright lights and hum of a Las Vegas casino?
Rain Man is one of the ‘must-see’ and most poignant movies of the 1980s and offers a brilliant take on the excitement in Las Vegas. For those reasons, it deserves its place on our list.
MIKE MCDERMOTT (MATT DAMON, ROUNDERS)
Rounders’ mediocre reception upon release at the cinema in 1998 really doesn’t do justice to the cult status it has achieved in the years since.
Boasting a stellar cast that includes Matt Damon, Edward Norton and John Malkovich as poker baron and Russian mobster Teddy KGB, Rounders tells the story of Mike McDermott, a New York City law student and gifted gambler who needs to win a high-stakes poker match to pay off a large sum of debt. It’s perhaps one of the more authentic movies when it comes to looking at the gambling underworld and offers a final poker scene between the competing McDermott and Teddy that simply brims with energy.
Never has the consumption, on screen, of Oreo cookies been used to such masterful effect in building suspense. If you’re wondering what on earth we’re talking about, then you should go and check out Rounders now and take some tips from Teddy and Mike.
JAMES BOND (DANIEL CRAIG, CASINO ROYALE)
Gambling is as much a part of this British spy’s DNA as shaken vodka martinis, vintage Aston Martins and glittering gadgets. Whether it was Roger Moore betting Faberge eggs in the 1980s classic Octopussy or Pierce Brosnan duelling with Russian agent Xenia Onatopp in Goldeneye, every incarnation of Bond seems to have his defining gambling scene. With the tuxedos and the impossibly beautiful Bond girls, the iconic nature of the casino scenes echo the iconic nature of the franchise more generally.
But none are more compelling than Daniel Craig, in his first outing as Bond, when he tries to bankrupt the terrorist financier Le Chiffre in a high-stakes poker game at Casino Royale in Montenegro.
Maybe it’s the fact Bond’s already won a 1964 Aston Martin DB5 in an earlier gambling scene, or because he still manages to beat Le Chiffre at cards shortly after having defibrillated himself in the back of a car, but his antics in this particular instalment of the franchise secure his status as the most iconic gambler in the history of movies.
It’s worth remembering that, initially, 007 loses his stake to Le Chiffre in a high-stakes Texas hold ’em tournament. He’s only able to buy back into the game with the support of fellow player, CIA agent and future pal, Felix Leiter.
No matter, Bond being Bond — persistent, calm under pressure — still manages to pick himself up off the canvas, dust himself down and win a $115m hand with a straight flush. It’s the stuff of dreams. You can almost hear Sir Sean Connery clapping in the background as Craig’s performance unfolds. It’s delivered with just the right mix of steel and suaveness that even the original Mr Bond must have been left impressed.
So, there you have it. Not an exhaustive list by any stretch. We haven’t summarised the antics of Zach Galifianakis in The Hangover — itself a play on Rain Man — or alighted on the fine acting of Paul Newman in 1967’s Cool Hand Luke. But this list isn’t designed to be exhaustive. Rather, it’s our take on some of the best gambling movies and should spur you into going out and discovering the rest for yourself.
Go and fetch yourself a cold beer, grab a slice of pizza and reach for the remote control. This is your opportunity to undertake a lesson in cinema’s greatest gamblers. Happy viewing everyone.