Some films use poker as a crutch to explain the tone of characters taking part in the story. They might be ruffians, gangsters, or down on their luck. Very rarely are they poker professionals, or if they are competent about the game in any way – as James Bond is supposed to be in 2006’s Casino Royale – then the film often gets it wrong.
This week’s example of poker on screen is in a movie that won an incredible 11 Oscars (or Academy Awards), still a record to this day. Despite being about a sinking ship, it was far from it at the box office. Yes, we’re talking about the 1997 movie, Titanic.
Directed by James Cameron, he of Terminator fame, the film would garner immense critical acclaim for the performances of both its leading man and lady in Leonardo Di Caprio and Kate Winslet, but in the poker scene, it’s only Leo who is present. That’s because Di Caprio’s character, Jack Dawson hasn’t even got a ticket to board the ill-fated ship.
In the poker game in question, Jack is at the table with his friend Fabrizio, an Italian who we find criticising Jack for risking their money in a hand he’s clearly not got much of a hand in.
Jack Dawson then utters the immortal line: “When you got nothing, you got nothing to lose.”
The two men Jack and Fabrizio share the table with, brothers Sven and Olaf Gunderson, however, have risked two third class tickets to board the Titanic against Jack and Fabrizio’s last dimes.
With some dog-eared cards, plenty of trading cards goes on and while Fabrizio is getting nowhere, it’s clear that Jack is.
“The moment of truth – somebody’s life is about to change.”
Jack is only up against just Sven after both Fabrizio and Olaf admit that they have nothing.
Sven’s hand is two-pair, and Jack turns to Fabrizio, saying: “I’m sorry Fabrizio.”
Fabrizio starts swearing until Jack interrupts him to complete his sentence.
“I’m sorry… you’re not going to see your Mom again for a long time,” He says. “Because you’re going to America… full house, boys!”
As Fabrizio picks up the tickets, Jack is held by the throat as Olaf loads up the mother of all punches… before landing it on his idiot brother, Sven.
Jack and Fabrizio grab the tickets and the money before getting ready to hustle out of the bar with just five minutes until the titanic sets sail.
If you recall, the fate of both men who won the poker game didn’t exactly pay them off very well. While Sven and Olaf lived to scrap at the poker table another day, Jack would perish in the frozen wastes of the Atlantic Ocean, his grip on Rose’s raft slipping away as his life does at the end of the movie.
For Fabrizio, who had nothing to do with the game taking place and had a losing hand until Jack’s won, it was even worse. About to drown after the Titanic hits the iceberg and is flooded from the lower decks up, Fabrizio manages to grab a lifebelt and is in the water. Having that brief fleeting hope of escape, Fabrizio frees his tethered lifeboat ingeniously with a penknife, only to drift away from the boat. Far from a lingering death in the water, or possible lifeboat rescue, Fabrizio is then crushed to death by the broken funnel of the Titanic, which kills him instantly. For the Italian, poker really is a brutal game.
Watch the poker scene in Titanic right here: