Top 5... - May 29, 2015

The Gambler (and five of the best films about gambling)
by James
James
by James hmv London, Bio "Like the legend of the Phoenix, I've just eaten a whole packet of chocolate HobNobs..." Editor, hmv.com

The Gambler (and five of the best films about gambling)

Everyone likes a flutter every now and then, don't they? Whether it's a once-a-year bet on the Grand National or the odd weekend bet on your favourite football team, for most it's just the occasional bit of fun. But like all things that provide a thrill, it can also be pretty addictive and in The Gambler director Rupert Wyatt provides a perfect illustration, if one were needed, of just how drastic things can get when your gambling habit begins to spiral out of control.

Mark Wahlberg stars as the man in question, a university professor of literature named Jim Bennett who, unbeknownst to his students, leads a double life crawling casinos and back-room card games to feed his gambling addiction. To make matters even more complicated, he finds himself falling into a relationship with one of his female students, Amy (Brie Larson), and that's only the start of his problems.

When one of the loan sharks that Bennett owes money to gives him a week to come up with the cash or be killed, he manages to convince his mother Roberta (Jessica Lange) to loan him enough money to pay off his debts, but once again finds himself in deep trouble when he gambles the lot away on a drunken night out with Amy.

Essentially a reworking of Karel Reisz' 1974 film of the same name starring James Caan, The Gambler is a high-stakes redemption story with a side order of romance, endowed with a talented cast that also includes John Goodman as Frank, another of the shady loan sharks feeding Bennett's addiction.

You can check out the trailer for Wyatt's new film below, but while you're waiting for The Gambler to arrive on DVD & Blu-Ray next week (June 1st) we've picked out five of our favourite films about playing the odds...

 

 

Casino

Martin Scorsese's partnership with Robert De Niro has produced nine films already, with a tenth in the pipeline in the form of the long-in-development gangster yarn The Irishman, but some of the best of these also include the on-screen partnership between De Niro and Joe Pesci. Having already starred together under Scorsese's direction in Raging Bull and Goodfellas, 1995 saw the release of Casino, which once again finds Pesci and De Niro working for the Mafia.

Sam 'Ace' Rothstein (De Niro) is a talented and studious gambler who is placed in charge of Las Vegas' Tangiers Casino with instructions to funnel profits back to the mob bosses “back home” in Chicago, but just as Sam is beginning to find success in building his gambling empire, the bosses send his old school friend Nicky Santoro to keep an eye on things, and before long Nicky's increasingly violent behaviour begins to draw some unwanted attention. Also starring Sharon Stone as Sam's love interest, a beautiful but conniving hustler named Ginger, Casino is probably one of Scorsese's most underrated films.

 

Lock, Stock & Two Smoking Barrels

Guy Ritchie's breakthrough feature was a shot in the arm for the British film industry and although it's often thought of as a 'gangster flick', at the heart of its story is a fateful card game with a nefarious underworld villain named “Hatchett” Harry Lonsdale. Nick Moran stars as Eddy, the man trying to take Harry's money with the help of his friends Soap (Dexter Fletcher), Tom (Jason Flemying) and Bacon (Jason Statham). When Harry's dirty tactics leave Eddy heavily in his debt, the foursome must hatch a plot to raise the £500,000 he owes before they start having their fingers chopped off by Harry's menacing enforcer, Barry the Baptist, played by the equally menacing bare-knuckle fighter Lenny McLean.

Also featuring roles for former Wimbledon hardcase Vinny Jones and ex-Police frontman Sting, Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels is funny, fast-paced and full of great one-liners: “If the milk turns out to be sour, I ain't the kind of pussy to drink it”. This is essential viewing.

 

21

Robert Luketic's 2008 film is loosely based on the true story of six MIT students who devised a sophisticated card counting system to cheat millions out of casinos playing blackjack in Las Vegas and other gambling meccas around the world. Kevin Spacey stars as professor Mickey Rosa, who recruits a group of talented students to his blackjack team, charged with fleecing the casinos over several weekend 'field trips'.

New recruit Ben (Jim Sturgess) begins to let the team's success get to his head, letting his studies slip and losing $200,000 of Rosa's money after refusing to walk away from a game, but when he is spotted by one of the Casinos security team (Lawrence Fishburne) and given a beating, things begin to unravel. Also stars Kate Bosworth and Josh Gad.

 

The Sting

Paul Newman and Robert Redford star in Roy George Hill's classic 1973 film about two con-men who use gambling as a tool to fleece money out of notorious Irish gangster Doyle Lonnegan (Robert Shaw), in revenge for the mobster's killing of one of their mutual friends after a delivery of cash goes missing.

When Donnegan also orders a hit on his victim's partner in crime, Johnny Hooker (Redford), he flees to Chicago and meets up with legendary conman Henry Gondorff (Newman) and together they concoct a plan so detailed that Lonnegan won't even know he has been conned. However, the boys are playing a dangerous game and there are plenty of plot twist and turns to keep you on the edge of your seat. Hill's film won seven Oscars at the 1974 Academy Awards and deserved every one of them.

 

Freeze Out

Our final pick is this criminally underrated film from director M.J. Loheed. Produced on a budget of just $30,000, Loheed's film begins innocuously enough at one of the weekly card games held by John (Tom Sharpe) and a group of his friends, a regular ritual of beer drinking, jokes and low-stakes betting for fun.
However, John is beginning to get irritated at being the butt of his friends' jokes and when he attempts to get revenge by raising the stakes, things start getting out of hand pretty quickly.

Starring alongside Sharpe is a cast that includes Laura Silverman, Greg Behrendt and Eddie Pepitone, and while you won't find any explosive action sequences or car chases in Loheed's film, what you will find is plenty of sharp dialogue, hilarious gags and a ruthless assessment of the fragile nature of friendship. Highly recommended.

 

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