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 The World of Film in Australia - on the Internet Updated Monday September 23, 2018 

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Why do Gambling Scenes Create Such Excitement?

Movies exist for two primary reasons: Firstly, to thrill and entertain us, and secondly, to make us think. In this respect, some movies succeed more than others. Titles like Star Wars: The Phantom Menace pretty much fail to do anything except annoy audiences, while films like Shawshank Redemption succeed thanks to ticking both boxes: entertainment and thought-provoking subject matter.

What seems clear is that films involving elements of tension and heightened drama, especially when set against a backdrop or narrative which doesnít necessarily sustain excitement all the way through, can create some of the most memorable cinematic moments around.

On the flipside, when these moments are overdone, and when directors overplay their hand by taking scenes too far, it can prove disastrous. A nice parody of this comes in the form of a scene from The Office: An American Workplace, and their satirical look at drama on our screens courtesy of the characters taking a silly number of coin flips to make a decision in the episode "Threat Level Midnight".

This example stands in contrast to when scenes with this sort of subject matter are done well, where great drama can be created by embracing elements of the gambling landscape.

Not just a poker face
When you look at the example of gambling in films in more detail, it becomes clear that, in good films, it is very rarely used as indulgent material; it is usually there for a purpose. So, while you could look at the poker scenes in Casino Royale and view them just as superficial filler content, this would ignore the importance the scenes have to adding elements of depth to Bondís personality in the film. Using casino games to create a complete picture of a character is a feature that also helped films like Rounders, 21, and even Rain Man to stick long in the mind.

Indeed, anyone who has turned their hand to playing blackjack, whether online with brands as diverse as Joe Fortune, where different variants are available for players to try on their mobile, tablet or PC, or in a physical casino playing against others in the flesh, will know all too well that you can learn an awful lot from how someone acts and reacts at a gambling table about their character . This is the case in real life, but, more obviously (because the action is beamed out from our screens) in fictional portrayals of gambling in film.

Being the underdog
Learning more about characters is one thing, but another interesting twist that gambling scenes in films possess is the ability to make audiences root for a particular character. For years we have tried to work out why we want to root for the underdog on a psychological level, and in a casino-themed movie, it is natural that we will always want to back the unlucky gambler who needs that one big win. This is largely down to the fact that we subconsciously want to happen to the character what we would want to happen to us. So, when we see a character lose that all-important hand of poker or pick the wrong colour on the roulette wheel, we develop a heightened awareness of empathy. In this sense, it doesn't even matter if the individuals in question aren't people we naturally want to win and succeed - which is why we want the robbers to win in films like Ocean's 11, a cinematic triumph which is still loved and analysed today.

This is largely down to the fact that we subconsciously want to happen to the character what we would want to happen to us. So, when we see a character lose that all-important hand of poker or pick the wrong colour on the roulette wheel, we develop a heightened awareness of empathy. In this sense, it doesn't even matter if the individuals in question aren't people we naturally want to win and succeed - which is why we want the robbers to win in films like Ocean's 11, a cinematic triumph which is still loved and analysed today.

Perhaps, all of this said, the true beauty of a great casino or gambling scene is that even if you think you know how a movie is going to turn out, you donít always know how the mini plots of the action from the gambling table are going to end. It is those additional elements of drama that, in Hollywood at least, are priceless.

Published June 5, 2018

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