HomeFilmHow Gambling Shaped Australian Cinema: Betting Down Under

How Gambling Shaped Australian Cinema: Betting Down Under

Australia has a well-documented passion for gambling, with an estimated eight out of ten Australians regularly engaging in various forms of betting and gaming. Their deep-rooted passion for gambling has shaped the culture in ways that nobody could expect. With so many people participating in gambling in one form or another, there’s no shortage of new casinos for Australian players nationwide.

However, this gambling frenzy goes beyond land-based and online casinos in Australia. It has also left a mark on other cultural aspects, including cinema. The stories that began in the world of roulette and blackjack have evolved into script concepts that have grown into an assortment of cinematic storylines.

Dirty Deeds: Bringing the Casino Action into the 00s

If you want to enjoy an engaging crime-comedy with a distinctive blend of high-stakes action and dark humor, ‘Dirty Deeds’ is your first stop. Despite being released in 2002, the Australian movie is set in the 1960s. It follows the story of Barry Ryan – a mob boss dealing with his empire being threatened by the American mobsters.
The action takes place in Sydney, and the filmmakers did a great job at capturing the glamor of those years in Australia. It’s a fast-paced movie with rapid events unfolding, so a mix of comedy, suspense, and twists hook you.
Switching to the cast, Bryan Brown portrays the ruthless but charismatic Barry Ryan. His performance is compelling, and plenty of scenes are shot inside a casino where Brown seems to shine. It’s worth noting that Brown’s own status as one of Australia’s celebrity gamblers might have contributed to the authenticity of his portrayal. However, equal credit goes to Toni Collette for her portrayal of Barry’s loyal wife, Sharon. Both actors make significant contributions to the film’s success.

Despite the gritty subject, the movie has a light-hearted tone that doesn’t make it a total crime drama. Its distinctive combination of humour, action, and well-crafted characters brought the film many positive reviews from local and international critics. Even to date, it remains one of the best productions that perfectly combine crime stories and the world of gambling in Australia. 

Wake in Fright – Gambling, Drinking, and Kangaroo Hunting

The next movie on our list is older, so you can expect it to go darker. ‘Wake in Fright’ is set in the Australian outback and explores the dark human nature through the eyes of John Grant, a school teacher who’s stranded in a remote mining town. Despite living a normal life with a straight moral compass and activities fit for a teacher, the new environment pushes John to do unusual things.

Grant succumbs to a degenerative way of living involving regular gambling, kangaroo hunting, and heavy drinking. It goes without saying that such a routine can’t be held together for a long time, so the character eventually spirals into madness.

Gary Bond plays John Grant and perfectly depicts his transformation from a civilised and cultured individual to someone indistinguishable from the wild. He is joined by Donal Pleasance, playing Doc Tydon, Grant’s mentor in all the debauchery.

Unlike ‘Dirty Deeds’, this is a slow-paced movie that allows the viewers to truly immerse in the degrading and brutal experience of the protagonist. It perfectly captures the murderous rage, self-loathing, and suicidal tendencies that John goes through. 

Oscar and Lucinda – Depicting the Opposite Faces of Gambling

This 1997 Australian-American production is a romantic drama film that tells the story of, you guessed it, ‘Oscar and Lucinda’. The movie is all about a romantic tale between two apparently incompatible individuals. Lucinda has a glass factory that she bought after receiving a Prince Rupert’s Drop as a child, while Oscar is an avid gambler who uses his skills to pay for school.

They become a couple brought together by their love for playing cards during a cruise ship to Australia.  
Over time, Oscar’s risk-taking nature makes the couple agree to build a glass church and transport it across the Australian outback. The expedition to deliver the glass church is led by Mr. Jeffries, who has no issues raping and murdering indigenous Australians. In the end, Oscar kills Jeffries in self-defense. 

Final Thoughts

Australian cinema has featured gambling themes since the 1970s, reflecting a long-standing passion for gambling in the country. While online casinos have increased accessibility, the cultural affinity for these activities predates their emergence in the digital age, influencing storytelling in films for many years.

Pip Ellwood-Hughes
Pip Ellwood-Hughes
Pip is the Editor of Entertainment Focus and the Managing Director of agency Piñata Media.

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