Synopsis: Jim Bennett (Academy Award-nominee Mark Wahlberg) is a risk taker. Both an English professor and a high-stakes gambler, Bennett bets it all when he borrows from a gangster (Michael Kenneth Williams) and offers his own life as collateral. Always one step ahead, Bennett pits his creditor against the operator of a gambling ring (Alvin Ing) and leaves his dysfunctional relationship with his wealthy mother (Academy Award-winner Jessica Lange) in his wake. He plays both sides, immersing himself in an illicit, underground world while garnering the attention of Frank (John Goodman), a loan shark with a paternal interest in Bennett’s future. As his relationship with a student (Brie Larson) deepens, Bennett must take the ultimate risk for a second chance.
Release Date: December 25, 2014 MPAA Rating: PG-13
Rupert Wyatt’s The Gambler, a pseudo-remake of the 1974 James Caan flick, is a mess of a movie. Its script, while wordy and overwrought with flowery monologues, is hardly befit for the material and even less so for its lead actor. What might have, at first glance, seemed like a good idea, instead crumbles immediately out of the gate. Props to the filmmakers for not simply xeroxing the source material, knowing the end result might have been better if they had.
Wahlberg plays Jim Bennett, a literature professor with the type of crippling gambling addiction that only works in the movies. He comes from a wealthy family and therefore Jim’s gambling is more a way for him to act out than it is a chance for him to indulge some urge. We meet Jim in at a seedy underground gambling party and within minutes it becomes clear he has problems. But while the gambling is bad and his penchant for enticing the wrong people is even worse, Jim’s biggest problem is that he’s not a likable character. He’s not someone you want to root for, and he’s not someone whose well-being you care about. For all we care, Jim could lose all his money and end up in a ditch, and we would feel like he deserved it.
Sure, there are secondary cast members who flesh out the story, which sees Jim trying to repay a huge debt within seven days, but because they exist in this character’s solar system it’s hard to be invested in them either. John Goodman is great as Frank, a crime lord who mentors Jim on the value of paying one’s debts, but his efforts are wasted on a story that’s borderline impenetrable. And not impenetrable in the sense that screenwriter William Monahan has obfuscated the truth in an effort to build intrigue, but rather this story makes you wonder why you should even care. Some of the plot points tie in to each other, while others feel like smaller parts of a completely different movie. Eventually it coalesces into something, but it’s in such a forced, cliche way that anyone who didn’t already check out earlier will likely have had enough. At the very least, the film tries to buck expectations, and in that regard it has some admirable qualities, but the way things wrap up is unbelievably obvious.
What makes The Gambler even stranger is the fact that its script is written with such sharp dialogue. Where the movie might lack defining characteristics, the dialogue has a rat-a-tat personality that feels like it was developed for a completely different movie. Hearing Mark Wahlberg spew out eloquent and thought-provoking diatribes is jarring, sure, but it’s more than that. It’s simply impossible to buy that someone this maddeningly childish would be capable of such insight, let alone that he would be able to deliver collegiate level monologues to Korean mob bosses. To put it simply, the dialogue doesn’t fit the tone of the movie, and becomes an immensely discordant component.
The Gambler carries most of the sins of a high profile remake in that it doesn’t justify its existence or its deviations from the source material. Even worse, it doesn’t satisfy as a piece of cinema either. It’s boring, tone deaf, and overwrought with stylistic inconsistencies. It’s as if every member of the cast and crew was trying to make a different movie and no one stopped to look at the product so far. The script has punch, but does not fit with such an unlikeable character. And the boorish main character doesn’t fit with a story centered on redemption. Some of the performances are decent, but you’d be hard pressed to acknowledge them amidst all the awful. The Gambler is a confusing mess of a movie – watch the original and forget this one ever existed.
Although Mark Wahlberg doesn’t quite gel with the script’s vision for Jim Bennett, the remaining cast members work well within The Gambler‘s ramshackle narrative. As was mentioned, John Goodman is excellent playing against type as a wise mafioso-type character. Michael Kenneth Williams is equally solid as the bookee pestering Jim throughout the film. They seem to understand what it takes to make this material work for their characters, while Wahlberg doesn’t. At the very least they deserve some recognition for making the best out of a bad situation, but make no mistake they do not redeem the film in the slightest.
Cast and Crew
- Director(s): Rupert Wyatt
- Screenwriter(s): William Monahan
- Cast: Mark Wahlberg (Jim Bennett)George Kennedy (Ed)Jessica Lange (Roberta) Brie Larson (Amy Phillips)John Goodman (Frank)
- Editor(s): Pete Beaudreau
- Cinematographer: Greig Fraser
- Production Designer(s):
- Costume Designer:
- Casting Director(s):
- Music Score: Jon Brion
- Music Performed By:
- Country Of Origin: USA