Film Commentary: THE ANTI-HEROES OF THE CINEMA CASINO

by Frank Arthur on April 21, 2018

in Film

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THE ANTI-HEROES OF THE CINEMA CASINO

In Hollywood, there are no heroes in films centered around the casino. Film-makers thrive when they focus on the seedier side of the industry, preferring their leading characters to display foibles and flaws to make them more interesting and frequently more desperate.

Allow us to run through Hollywood’s five best anti-heroes of the casino.

5. Bernie Lootz (The Cooler, 2003)

William H Macey’s hound-dog features capture the luckless Lootz perfectly.

A habitué of the Shangri-La in Las Vegas, Lootz is part of the furniture and dogged by such ill-fortune that he owes large sums to the casino.

Enter Shelly, the casino’s boss, who employs him as the eponymous cooler. When a player runs into a streak of hot form, Lootz is placed next to him to bring his own personal ill-fortune to the table.

Such is the lure of the casino to Bernie that he helps Shelly fight against turning the Shangri-La into an amusement park. “Like a gorgeous high-priced hooker with an exclusive clientele,” Bernie opines. “Now she’s nothing but a cheap, fat whore hiding behind too much makeup.”

4. Sam Rothstein (Casino, 1995)

Scorsese’s tale of the Tangiers Casino is based on the life of mobster Frank “Lefty” Rosenthal. Robert de Niro delivers what many argue is his finest hour as Sam “Ace” Rothstein who makes himself an instant hit by doubling the casino’s money.

With Joe Pesci and Frankie Vincent to protect him, what could possibly go wrong? It all unravels as Rothstein’s weakness, Ginger, is manipulated by her former beau, Lester Diamond, before she descends into alcohol and later drug dependency.

Not a “made man,” Rothstein struggles to rein in Pesci’s insidious recklessness and after an argument in the desert, Pesci lambasts de Niro demanding he “never go over my head” again.

After being denied his casino licence, Ace finds himself caught up in an FBI investigation. The car bomb meant to kill serves as the denouement to a whirlwind time in Vegas, with Pesci and his brother buried alive in a field, Stone dying of an overdose and Rothstein “right back where I started,” returning to become a sports handicapper for the mob.

3. Henry “Shaw” Gondorff and Johnny “Kelly” Hooker (The Sting, 1973)

Paul Newman and Robert Redford teamed up once again with George Roy Hill to make the Oscar winning, yet much under-rated, The Sting.

With the same whimsical feel as the trio’s Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, the strength of the tale of revenge relies upon the “buddiness” of the lead stars. Newman, the retired con-man, works with Redford, the grifter, to avenge the murder of their mutual friend Luther Coleman.

They put together a team, led by Harold Gould’s sparkling Kid Twist, in ripping off Robert Shaw’s cartoon villain Doyle Lonnegan and passing dud notes to Charles Durning’s corrupt policeman, Snyder.

The revenge theme and all friends together runs through to this day, transferring to the small screen in the BBC series Hustle – initially with Robert Vaughan as the Newman-type figure leading his crew – as Betway Insider notes in their celebration of the Small-Screen Gambling: 7 Greatest TV Casino moments.

2. Sydney Brown (Hard Eight, 1996)

Phillip Baker Hall gives a fine performance as the older gambler with secrets to hide. Sydney seemingly takes pity on John, who needs to raise $6k to pay for his mother’s funeral.

Brown teaches John the ins and outs of the gambling world, with things going well until Clementine and Jimmy walk into their lives. Gwyneth Paltrow’s waitress-moonlighting-as-a-prostitute and John get together, holding one of her non-paying customers hostage before skipping town as Sydney clears the mess up.

At which point, Sydney’s shady past comes to light. Meeting John wasn’t the coincidence we believed, nor was Brown’s interest in him entirely altruistic. Sydney killed John’s father, a fact Jimmy would like to forget for $10k.

Sydney only has $6k to his name but persuades Jimmy to accept it. Later, he waits for Jimmy, shooting him and taking what’s left of the money with him.

1. Jack Manfred (Croupier, 1999)

Clive Owen plays Manfred, an aspiring writer who takes a job as the Croupier. In a tumultuous relationship with Marion, he goes drinking with Matt, a fellow Croupier on the take; sleeps with another croupier, Bella; and, gets involved in a robbery of the casino where he’s working.

Deeply unhappy at his lot, he writes a book based on his life which proves hugely successful when he publishes it anonymously after Marion is killed in a hit-and-run accident.

At the end of it, Jack finds the robbery was masterminded by his own father whereupon he resumes his relationship with Bella.

Owen plays the shallow and calculating Manfred brilliantly, breathing new life into the story-by-numbers theme of a writer plummeting the depths of the human psyche to become his book.

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