Casinos are naturally high-stakes environments, but movie directors love to find ways to raise the tension even higher. Anything can happen in a casino. It is the juxtaposition of a variety of emotions that make scenes in casinos so compelling. Fortunes can change quickly on the roll of a dice or the deal of a card, and every person who is present is experiencing something different. This is why directors will dedicate scenes, or sometimes entire movies, to the events at a casino.
The obvious starting point is Casino, although it is hard to pick just one scene from Martin Scorsese’s epic crime film because it is pretty much all about a casino. In vintage Scorsese style, it focuses on the dark ramifications of what happens if a casino is owned by the Mafia. Featuring the considerable talents of Robert De Niro, Sharon Stone and Joe Pesci, the casino provides a bustling and dramatic backdrop to events.
A game of poker allows for subtle mind games and strategy in a way that a round of golf does not. Casino Royale would be a very different proposition if James Bond and Le Chiffre took to the golf course to play a round to solve their conflict, and of course Golf Royale does not have the right level of suaveness required by a Bond film title. But when Bond and Le Chiffre take to the table with millions of dollars at stake, the normally private game of poker is laid bare on the screen in scenes as gripping as any Bond car chase.
For movie directors, casino scenes are an efficient way to increase richness to their cinematic world as every person present seems like they have a story to tell, even if we do not get to hear them all. Casinoquest.ca has considered the rationale behind famous casino scenes in movies, with the idea that it is the perfect setting to allow for a wide moodscape in a single frame – a compelling argument for explaining the location’s popularity.
It would be remiss to formulate a list of famous casino scenes and only include scenes from films that contain the word ‘casino’ in the title. A more left-field scene is one defined by the introduction of Selena Gomez in The Big Short. In this stunning financial drama, director Adam McKay finds novel ways to unpick heady monetary concepts. One scene involves Margot Robbie in a bath explaining subprime mortgages, whilst another features Gomez at a blackjack table alongside an economics expert while they elucidate the notion of synthetic CDOs in straightforward terms.
The blackjack table provides the ideal setting for Gomez’s explanation, as the punters nearby become involved in the scene. Gomez has spoken of how important it was that unlikely celebrities could help break down the financial jargon in the hope that people could understand the heavy real-life ramifications detailed in the film.
From the dazzling drama of Ocean’s Eleven to the gripping poker scenes of early Matt Damon film Rounders, casinos scenes are used consistently to provide visual spectacle and subtle tensions. In the hilarious blackjack misunderstanding in Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery, Mike Myers’ character assumes a Bond level of bravado at the table. Sadly for Powers, when it comes to casino scenes there is no match for Bond.