A Big Gamble

Cynthia Gibb in High Stakes (1997)

Life was good for Annie (Cynthia Gibb) she enjoyed her work as a news reporter and she was dating the station manager Mike Fitzgerald (Robin Thomas). But then not only do they get married but she falls pregnant and in doing so gives up work. Whilst she throws herself in to sorting out their new home in preparation for their child she finds herself missing the excitement of work. Whilst out shopping one day she stumbles in on a game of poker and ends up not only playing but winning. The thrill of the game and the winning money leads to her playing in other private games as she seeks to fill the void in her life. But filling the void becomes a secret addiction as she starts gambling for all sorts of reasons including the need for the fix as she becomes addicted and ends up not only losing money but putting her marriage in jeopardy.

Whether you call it an illness, a disease or just a case of a lack of self control being addicted to gambling is horrific. It consumes you in so many ways giving you the highs of the win, the lows of the loss which in turn become a desperate need to win back those losses. You find your life becoming ruled by being able to go and gamble, you take extended lunch breaks to hit the slots, you stop off at the bookies on the way home for a minute which turns in two and that becomes getting home late. You start getting snappy when things go wrong and both snappy and anxious when someone even mentions gambling. But it isn't just the gambler who is affected, the loved ones who not only have to deal with the hurt from the lies but also the mood changes as well as the financial repercussions. As I said gambling addiction is horrific and it has the ability to destroy many to the point some never recover from it.

That brings me to "High Stakes" a late 90s movie which in truth is more apt now as gambling addiction is even more rife and as someone who can speak from experience this movie does a good job of covering the basis. We see how initially Annie's gambling is to fill a void which becomes a fix and then desperation as the losses mount up and the need to play is to make the money back rather than for the excitement. We also see how as Annie's losses mount up one credit card after another is maxed out, when the cash machine rejects one she puts another in and when there is no money left she starts pawning things, hoping to turn her losing streak around.

But whilst it shows all the attributes of how a gambler lives, desperately placing bets even when they win, unable to stop it also shows how hard it is to stop. We see how Annie tries to fill the void but that urge to gamble is always there and you can't just have a small bet because for Annie one becomes another. Not only that we also see Annie struggle to deal with the knock on effect of others lack of trust in her. We see how after Mike confronts Annie's addiction he can't trust her and it just adds stress to their relationship.

The thing is that whilst "High Stakes" does a pretty damn good job of highlighting all the aspects of being a gambler when it tries to build a storyline around this which of course has Annie going on a journey to try and deal with her addiction it starts to feel contrived. I say that because most gamblers have a much rougher time of things than is shown in "High Stakes" with often debts being chased up and so much more. Plus gambling addicts don't have the same reaction to quitting gambling that a drug addict has when they go cold turkey and trying to show it like this in the movie is wrong.

What this all boils down to is that whilst "High Stakes" does an above average job of showing what it is like to be a gambling addict by trying to be the complete package it goes too far because gambling addicts are not like drug addicts when it comes to how they deal with quitting.

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