If you’re fascinated by the history of gambling and are looking for a slightly out-of-the-way movie that might have missed you by until this point, then look no further than The Last Casino – a 2004 drama, not without its comedic moments, that delves deep into the world of gambling and Blackjack in particular.
Necessary background knowledge regarding the movie is the history of the MIT Blackjack Team, a true story of how a group of mathematically savvy students from MIT as well as other prominent universities studied card counting techniques and transformed themselves into gambling prodigies. They developed methods of “card counting”, ways of keeping track of how many cards and of which value had been played from games’ decks and consequently increase their chances of winning. While the real-life story of the MIT Blackjack Team is a hugely successful one, making them millions of dollars, this reviewer will refrain from declaring how closely fiction follows fact in this interpretation of those events.
Indeed, while The Last Casino draws heavily on real life for inspiration, it also dares explore directions of freedom, raising the dramatic tensions and stakes, introducing more classical movie-fare plot elements and is overall an extremely well concocted and acted story. Average user reviews at IMDB rate the movie 7.1, which is a fair reflection of its strong, but by no means spectacular, merits.
It stars Charles Martin Smith, perhaps most famous for his role in George Lucas coming-of-age comedy American Graffiti, as well as a number of popular shows, including the X-Files, Fringe, Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, and many more. He plays the central character of Mathematics Professor Doug Barnes – a gambling extraordinaire with already well-honed card counting abilities established at the movie’s outset.
As the plot develops, Doug needs to recruit promising students to act on his behalf engaging in Blackjack gambling at various casinos to make back money that he needs. These students are played by Albert Chung, Kris Lemche and Katharine Isabelle. Of these, Katharine Isabelle is likely the most recognizable having enjoyed a long career starring in many horror movies. Naturally the students are tasked with learning the same card counting techniques that Doug possesses, and the movie chiefly follows their escapades and adventures.
The Movie’s main antagonist, played by cinematic veteran Julian Richings, provides a dramatic backdrop and with his penchant flair of understated villainy, the movie’s tension is strung very high. In fact, the movie has been widely praised for its tight control of tempo and tension, manifesting the thrill of gambling in its structure and pacing.
Overall, this is a movie well worth your time if, as mentioned, you are interested in the theme of gambling. Surprisingly, few films capture the dramatic flair of gambling, and in particular Blackjack – and The Last Casino is a welcome departure from the more general pattern of movies that feature gambling chiefly focusing elsewhere. Here, the Blackjack is very much front and center – really drawing you into the excitement. Having enjoyed this movie, you’ll likely even be moved to research card counting yourself, look around for local casinos or perhaps even look for websites where you can play Blackjack games online.
Be careful though – while card counting techniques are many and varied – they are of course much more challenging to pick up than montages in movies might have you believe! They’ll require a lot of practice and training at lower stakes before you’re ready to take on the kind of drama that is portrayed so wonderfully in The Last Casino.