Vegas can transform you. A mild manner office drone can show up at any of the party casinos on the Vegas strip and, after a few complimentary drinks and hands of poker, walk out with a showgirl on each arm and a wallet stuffed to the brim with the house’s cash. Conversely, it’s just as easy to stumble out of said casino, piss drunk after blowing your kid’s college fund at the black jack table. Over the years, Hollywood has cashed in the high stakes allure of Vegas with a number of films that capitalize on the glitz, glamour, and danger inherent with life on the strip.
In Oceans 11, both the 1960 original and 2001 remake, a rag tag group of misfits and con artists try to rip off a number of Vegas casinos simultaneously. In the original film, with Frank Sinatra and the Rat Pack playing Frank Oceans and company, the group served together in WWII as paratroopers and unite to pull of the heist, “Why waste those cute little tricks that the Army taught us just because it’s sort of peaceful now.” In the remake, starring George Clooney and Brad Pitt, Frank Ocean is a recently released prisoner who enlists the aid of other ex cons to rip off the three casinos owned by Terry Benedict. The original and the remake both feature an amazing ensemble cast, scene stealing fashion, and more one liners than you can shake a martini at.
2009′s The Hangover features naked Chinese gangsters, tigers, prostitutes, and Mike Tyson . What more could you want in a movie? The movie revels in levels of debauchery that would make Charlie Sheen blush. In the film, three groomsmen wake up in a Vegas hotel room with a crying baby and a tiger in the bathroom and their soon to be married friend nowhere to be found. As the group struggles to fit the pieces together of what happened the previous night they encounter everything Vegas has to offer, and then some, with nihilistic glee.
While The Hangover glamorizes the hedonistic lifestyle often associated with Vegas the 1995 Nicholas Cage vehicle Leaving Las Vegas highlights the physical, emotional, and spiritual trauma that Vegas can inflict on a desperate man. The protagonist of the film, Ben Sanderson, is a washed up alcoholic who has lost everything and has decided to move to Vegas where he can drink himself to death. Along the way Sage falls in love with a prostitute, named Sera, who he drags along with him on his downward spiral. Leaving Las Vegas definitely was the feel-good movie of the year when it was released.
“What was I doing here? What was the meaning of this trip? Was I just roaming around in a drug frenzy of some kind? Or had I really come out here to Las Vegas to work on a story?” That question, asked by protagonist Raoul Duke, is at the heart of 1998′s drug-fueled joy ride that is Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. The film was directed by visionary Terry Gilliam and based on the book of the same name written by Dr. Gonzo himself, Hunter Thompson. The movie was a financial failure when it was first released by has since become a cult classic.
Anything can happen in Vegas. You can wake up face down on the floor of your hotel room, hungover, with no memory of the previous night and find a tiger in the bathroom. You can win a fortune or loose your entire life’s savings. You could drink yourself to death or get married by Elvis at a drive-thru Chapel. This capacity for human drama is what makes Vegas such an amazing setting for Hollywood films. After all, there’s a reason why the say “what happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas”.
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