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Review: The Gambler

The Gambler
12.22.2014
5 10

PLOT: A literature professor (Mark Wahlberg) finds himself in debt to various underworld figures for $240,000 as a result of his hardcore gambling addiction.

REVIEW: It’s always a shame when a film you’ve been looking forward to underwhelms. Rupert Wyatt’s THE GAMBLER looked, on the outset, to be exactly the kind of gritty crime drama that’s like catnip to me. I was so excited to see it I checked out the original 1974 James Toback/James Caan film a few months ago. Whoops. Big mistake. While not without its own flaws, the 1974 film (actually directed by Karel Reisz but written by Toback) was a sobering, thoughtful, and eventually moral look at gambling addiction, which strikes me as possibly one of the most dangerous addictions to have. This remake is just a watered-down version that hits all of the same beats as the original, only judges its nominal hero far less harshly, and emerges an oddly amoral film with an ending that borders on being ludicrous.

Much of the hype surrounding this has been devoted to Mark Wahlberg’s startling physical transformation, with him having dropped a staggering sixty one pounds for the part. This is quickly becoming a trend, and while it made sense for Matthew McConaughey and Christian Bale to drop weight for DALLAS BUYERS CLUB and THE MACHINIST, it serves absolutely no purpose here. Yes, he’s playing a professor and not a body builder, but Wahlberg’s played regular guys at his normal weight before, and it seems like a showy, dangerous thing to do for a part that’s ultimately not worth the hassle.

His Jim Bennett is arguably the most repellent hero of the year. With him playing an addict, it would have certainly been understandable if he came off as a jerk when needed, but even when he’s at his worst the movie constantly tries to excuse his behavior and make you like him. His mother, played by Jessica Lange, emerges as a shallow and judgmental figure, thereby making it “ok” for him to get whatever cash he can out of her in a sequence where she withdraws a large sum from her bank to help him out. His nominal love interest, a college gal (played by Brie Larson), is similarly two-dimensional, making her seem like little more than a girl with a crush being taken advantage of by her professors, although again, the movie wants you to root for them to get together.

If Wahlberg had at least been charming or charismatic in the part, this might have all made sense. Rather, he struts around trying to look cool in his dark suits and omnipresent sunglasses. Usually, Wahlberg’s an underappreciated guy, but there’s very little he can do to humanize this badly overwrought character, who has to spout off writer William Monahan’s murderously self-indulgent dialogue. Everyone’s so prone to monologues here that it becomes comical, and the speeches aren’t as brilliant as everyone involved seems to think they are.

More than anything, it’s Monahan’s script that kills THE GAMBLER, and while he’s certainly a distinct voice, it pales considerably to the naturalistic dialogue and plotting of the original film which, if it was initially imperfect, comes off as a virtual masterpiece compared to this. As for Rupert Wyatt, he tries hard to give this a kind of Martin Scorsese-lite style, with a non-stop soundtrack of hits (including the increasingly popular use of a cover of Radiohead’s ‘Creep’, M83, etc) and deep cuts (points for using a track from SEARCHING FOR SUGARMAN’s Rodriguez). Wyatt probably could still make a hell of a film given the right material, but THE GAMBLER just isn’t it.

However, the film is salvaged somewhat by a few of the supporting performances. Michael K. Williams brings his loan shark character a degree of complexity that’s par for the course for him, and if anyone manages to make Monahan’s dialogue roll off the tongue, it’s him. John Goodman is also very effective as a shady character Wahlberg goes to as a last resort. He only has a handful of scenes, but they’re the best in the movie. It was also very nice seeing none other than George Kennedy pop up in a cameo as Wahlberg’s dying grandfather.

If THE GAMBLER didn’t have such a high pedigree; I would have gone much easier on it. Truth be told, it’s not that bad. It’s just that with that director, writer, and cast, THE GAMBLER should have been terrific. Rather, it’s just another melodrama with an ending that feels incredibly misjudged. Of the award contenders coming out before New Year’s, this is the one big letdown.

Source: JoBlo.com

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