The Gambler (1974)
Directed By: Karel Reisz
The grandfather of modern gambling films, The Gambler stars James Caan in one of the greatest roles he ever played and follows him as he racks up an insurmountable gambling debt to the mob. While the film clearly has an influence on other gambling films such as Uncut Gems, it opts for a much more meditative look at the lifestyle of a gambler.
Caan’s character is a college professor with his life seemingly in order to everyone around him. Yet as he spirals deeper into debt, he finds himself destroying relationships, turning to unwanted company, and placing larger bets to pay off the old ones.
In a scene early on, the camera linger on him as it forces us to feel the guilt he feels after he gambles, and yet at the first opportunity, he pulls the car over and puts down a wager on a pick-up basketball game. Through Caan’s depressed yet manic performance, the viewer experiences a burden of addiction in a way that both hurts and excites.
If you haven’t seen this one but enjoyed any of the other films on this list, it is a must to stream this as its influence can be felt all over movies. The film’s impact has been so powerful that it was even remade in 2014 with Mark Wahlberg. A true masterwork of the genre.