Capturing The Spirit Of The Casino On Film

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06 Dec 19

Capturing The Spirit Of The Casino On Film

It’s always been a bit of a conundrum for filmmakers – how to represent real-life authentically without making everything look as banal as reality often can be. On the other hand, if scenarios are pushed over the top to create interest there’s the real risk of losing the audience’s belief in the film. So it’s a tricky tightrope for any screenwriter and director to walk.

There’s also the question of satisfying viewers who know all about the real-life equivalents of what’s being portrayed on screen. For example, lawyers will watch a courtroom drama looking for inaccuracies in standard legal procedures and if they spot any it will undermine their enjoyment of the scene.

Filmmakers can react in two ways to this. Either make sure that they are advised by experts in a particular field, or they can go with their instinct to concentrate on making the piece of work as entertaining as possible.

With the seemingly incessant rise in popularity of online gambling, fuelled by an ever-increasing choice of site and incentives ranging from free spins on slots to very generous bingo offers more and more people are becoming experts in this particular area.

So it’s interesting to look at some scenes from film and TV to see what the approach has been and the result in the overall film. Here are five prime examples.

Better Call Saul

As one of the real standout supporting characters in Breaking Bad, it was only logical that he would feature in the spin-off prequel to the series. While his role was largely comic, with a hint of seriousness while he was helping out Walter White, in Better Call Saul it gave the writers the opportunity to delve a little deeper into his backstory and personality.

In one particular scene, Saul finds himself in the unlikely role of a bingo caller for a retirement community. Faced with an intent audience, keen to enjoy a peaceful game of bingo, Saul goes wildly off-track musing on his own futile existence instead of just calling out the numbers. The scene treads a fine line between comedy and pathos and the result is a very surprising and darkly amusing way to add some more depth to the character and motivation of Saul Goodman.

Run Lola Run

The 1998 German film has grown to be something of a cult classic for a number of reasons. The first is the incredible central performance by Franke Potente in the lead role and the second is the inventive use of multiple storylines running to explain the same series of events. Central to all these is the fact that Lola’s boyfriend has been kidnapped and unless she can provide the ransom money quickly he will be killed.

In one of the stories, she bursts into a fancy casino, buys chips with the little money she has and puts everything on the number 20. In an incredibly tense scene, the ball finally comes to rest on her chosen number. Still well short of the amount she needs, she puts all of her winnings on 20 again – and wins again. Now, this might sound implausible but an even more incredible feat was achieved by Sean Connery in a real casino in 1963.

Casino Royale

Now to another Bond – Daniel Craig. When he first appeared in the role in the 2006 movie here was a 007 for the 21st century. Gone were the cheesy puns and innuendo – in came a hard-hitting and far more violent tone. This change was beautifully exemplified by the famous casino scene in which Bond takes on the arch-villain Le Chiffre in a high stakes game of poker.

Gritty it may have been, but realistic it wasn’t. Not only were viewers asked to believe that Bond could be saved from being fatally poisoned by digitalis thanks to an on-board defibrillator in his car, it seemed that Le Chiffre’s poker “tell” was a tear of blood coming from his eye. To then go on to win with a straight flush was simply pushing credulity too far. But then Bond has never exactly been rooted in reality.

Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery

The world of the swinging sixties and international espionage was brilliantly spoofed in Mike Myers’ trio of Austin Powers movies which, naturally, had to include a number of scenes in casinos.

The most memorable of these involved a game of blackjack played with Dr Evil’s sidekick, Number 2. When he’s dealt 17 he uses his eyepatch, which is really an x-ray viewer, to see the next card to be dealt is a 4 so he twists. When questioned by the dealer whether this is wise, he says “I always like to live dangerously.” Then it’s Powers’ turn to receive his cards, a 3 and a 2. He asks to stay with these low scoring cards and when questioned says “I also like to live dangerously”.

It’s a funny scene that also manages to encapsulate the lovable nerdiness of our hero.


For our final selection, we’ll take a look at a casino movie that really is loosely based on real events. 21 tells the story of a group of MIT undergraduates who formed a syndicate in the 1990s to use card counting and other techniques to win huge sums of money playing blackjack in Las Vegas casinos.

The movie itself takes elements of the true story but in Hollywood style enhances or changes quite a few of them to create a more gripping narrative. However, the actual blackjack scenes are very realistic and convincing. So this is definitely a case of using a little artistic licence while hanging a plot on actual events.

Whether or not this matters is a question of opinion. But most people would probably agree that we watch movies and TV programmes to be entertained first and educated second. For those of us who want facts all the time then maybe documentaries could be the solution to our viewing needs instead.