There are some games that are simply more cinematic than others, and poker’s one of them. After all, it can be tense to watch and represent conflict – the driving force behind almost all drama. It also allows us as the audience to be surprised by the outcome of a scene.*
And now, with the ever-increasing interest in the game driven by the success of online poker sites, it seems like more and more films are likely to feature it both as a key plot device and as a dramatic event in itself.
Of the many, many films that have used poker to date there are some which really stand out for different reasons and all show players of very different characters who have one thing in common – they all come out on top.
The classic casino player must be James Bond and in Daniel Craig’s first outing in the role in Casino Royale he demonstrated exactly why. In a high stakes game against arch-enemy Le Chiffre it is vital that he wins, especially as he is gambling with millions of pounds worth of the UK Government’s money. Le Chiffre has other ideas and poisons Bond’s drink. Despite having to leave the table and recover from a cardiac arrest using his own in-car defibrillator the superspy coolly returns to the game and wins with a straight flush.
Coolness is also very much on display in the classic prison drama Cool Hand Luke. In the film a young Paul Newman plays a convict who refuses to conform and very much goes his own way. One of the movie’s most famous scenes involves a tense game of poker which goes on around him as Luke sits calmly at the centre of the action. As others put on increasingly large bets he holds steady and – you’ve guessed it – he wins with the laconic observation that “something nothing can be a real cool hand.”
Newman’s around the poker table again in The Sting. As part of an elaborate plot to swindle Robert Shaw’s character Doyle Lonegan, he pretends to be drunk to lure his opponent into a false sense of security. In the scene he also pulls off a trick on the audience too when the four 3s we see in his hand mysteriously turn into four jacks when it comes to the call, winning him $15,000 in the process.
Proof that poker is still very much alive and kicking in the movies comes in the recently released The Other Side of Hope from the Finnish director Aki Kaurismaki. In this the central character needs to earn enough money to fulfil a lifelong dream of opening a restaurant and decides to do it by playing poker. In an increasingly unbelievable sequence of hands he manages it – and is ordered never to return to the club.
As well as featuring poker the other thing that all these movies have in common are that they’re great examples of cinema. So even if you don’t know your flop from your straight flush they’re well worth checking out. And, who knows, they might even give you a taste for poker too?