The Gambler – Movie Review by Frances Winston
Directed by: Rupert Wyatt
Starring: Mark Wahlberg, John Goodman, Brie Larson, Jessica Lange
In cinemas January 23rd
This remake of the 1974 James Caan vehicle sees Mark Wahlberg take the lead role of The Gambler aka Jim Bennet. There is no sugar coating here – the title pretty much sums up the character. Although he has a good job as a literature professor he also has a severe gambling addiction. His reckless betting sees him owing over a quarter of a million dollars to the brains behind an underground gambling ring and another €50,000 to a loan shark. With seven days to pay off his debts or die he is living on the edge. He approaches another loan shark Frank (Goodman) for a loan but refuses to agree to his terms and is forced to ask his mother (Lange) to give him the money.
Unfortunately the lure of the casino proves too strong and on a night out with one of his students Amy (Larson) he gambles it all away. With no money and running out of time he is forced to convince one of his students to rig a college basketball game but in doing so he sees a way out if he can just get his hands on some cash and hold his nerve.
Caan has stated that this was one of his favourite roles saying: “It’s not easy to make people care about a guy who steals from his mother to pay gambling debts.” Unfortunately Whalberg doesn’t warrant the same level of affection. He is sulky and sullen throughout and comes across as a spoilt child who garners no sympathy. Some of his best scenes are actually in the classroom rather than the moments where he is struggling with his addiction. You never get a sense of what really makes him tick other than his own petulance. What saves this are the performances of those around him. Both Lange and Goodman shine in their roles and Larson shows why she is fast becoming one of Hollywood’s hottest properties. The movie itself is well paced and the story is engaging however rather than empathise with Bennet you feel that he deserves everything he gets. There is a lot of tension in the casino scenes although the outcome seems inevitable.
This is super stylish but doesn’t quite reach the depths that it hopes to. It is also going to suffer from comparisons to the original. As a standalone flick it is entertaining if not enlightening. You learn nothing about the nature of gambling addiction or the struggle of the addicts but that is obviously not what they were going for here. At just under two hours it doesn’t outstay its welcome or drag out its plotline and as a popcorn movie it doesn’t disappoint.