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Gambling movies not always a sure bet



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Updated: December 16, 2012 6:31AM

When you see your profession or your passion depicted on the big screen, it’s difficult to suspend disbelief and accept the difference between the reality of what you know and the fiction of what’s happening in the movie.

Cops who see cop movies write me to say, “It would never work that way.” Lawyers who see courtroom dramas tell me, “You’d be held in contempt if you tried that in a real case.” Strippers —

Well. You don’t really hear from strippers about the authenticity of stripper scenes in the movies.

Proofreading the playbook

As a serious amateur poker player and lifelong student of gambling, I expect most movies about poker and sports wagering and other forms of betting to get it wrong, or to take great dramatic license in the service of heightened storytelling. Authenticity takes a back seat to climactic scenes that have even casual gamblers rolling their eyes at the ridiculousness of it all.

Sometimes a film with a gambling theme is equal parts accurate and incredulous, e.g., “Silver Linings Playbook,” opening Friday.

Based on the novel by Matthew Quick and directed by David O. Russell (“The Fighter,” “Three Kings”), “Silver Linings Playbook” stars Bradley Cooper as Pat, fresh out of a stint in an institution and living with his mother and father in the Philadelphia home in which he grew up.

For my full review of the movie, you can go to the Sun-Times’ website or Here we’re going to concentrate on the gambling aspect.


De Niro’s Pat Sr. is a hardcore Eagles fan who runs a small bookmaking operation but is also a gambler. (Never a healthy combo platter.) Pat Sr. engages in a series of OCD rituals before and during every Eagles game. He also believes his son is a human good-luck charm and he wants Pat Jr. by his side for every play, wearing his Eagles jersey and rooting for the Eagles as if their lives depended on it.

In its depiction of fans who wear jerseys and paint their faces and get into brawls with other grown adults in the parking lot before the game even starts, “Silver Linings Playbook” gets it right. The OCD stuff, in which fans believe their rituals can somehow affect a game? Hey, it’s the same silliness we see in those beer commercials.

However, the nitty-gritty details of the wagering left me confused. Pat Sr. is a bookie — meaning he takes wagers from other gamblers and tries to balance it out so he can take his 10 percent “vig” without risk. But his friend Randy, the guy hanging out at the house all the time, seems to be the REAL bookie, and he’s the one who takes all the action when Pat Sr. makes a ridiculous parlay combining an unnaturally unfavorable spread against the Eagles and the score Pat Jr. and Tiffany (the widow who’s romancing him) will achieve at the dance competition. Granted, some people will be on anything, but the big finale bet is more than a bit of a stretch.

Also, if you’re a hardcore gambler, you simply cannot bet on the home team every week. You’ll go broke every time.

Die-hard swingers

Sports wagering plays an even bigger part in the plot of “Lay the Favorite,” arriving in theaters on Dec. 7 and playing now On Demand. Based on the non-fiction memoir from Beth Haymer and directed by the amazingly versatile Stephen Frears (“The Grifters,” “High Fidelity,” “The Queen”), this is a loud and quirky, Runyonesque tale that clicks more often than it misfires.

Bruce Willis nails the soul of the veteran high roller as Dink, who can be charismatic and benevolent when he’s on a winning streak — and mean as a snake when he goes cold. As in “Silver Linings Playbook,” there’s a little too much emphasis here on the whole human good-luck charm thing, this time with Rebecca Hall’s Beth playing the former stripper who falls into a job working with Dink and his crew. But, hey, it’s a movie intended for more than just the inside-gambler audience.

Also doing fine work: Vince Vaughn as a much sleazier professional gambler than Dink. This guy couldn’t care less about the human consequences as long as he can feel the thrill of the bet and he gets paid in the end.

As a complete viewing experience, “Lay the Favorite” isn’t nearly as strong a film as “Silver Linings Playbook,” but when it comes to those insider details about the world of the wager, it’s the superior effort.

But like so many gambling movies we’ve seen before, both of these efforts just can’t resist that One Last Big Gamble that comes down to One Last Big Play as Time Runs Out.

It’s the gambling movie equivalent of the guy running through the airport in a rom-com, telling the girl if she gets on that plane, she’ll regret it for the rest of her life.

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