A remake of James Tobac’s 1974 classic starring James Caan, The Gambler is inspired by Tobac’s own teaching career and gambling addiction. Mark Wahlberg’s (Lone Survivor, 2 Guns, Broken City) portrayal of Jim Bennett is without a doubt, his best ever screen performance. He rises to a completely new level which is far removed from his usual comedic or tough-guy role. Here’s hoping Wahlberg plays more roles of similar ilk in the future as he certainly nailed this one!
Jim Bennett (Wahlberg) is a Los Angeles based, literature professor with a severe gambling addiction. Deeply upset by the death of his father, but more so the fact he did not receive his expected fortune, Bennett quickly spirals downward in a self-destructive, all-or-nothing, care-free gambling binge. It is not long before he owes hundreds of thousands of dollars to a couple of very seedy characters. Needless to say, if he doesn’t pay the massive debt soon, he’s a dead man.
There are several moments of madness where it looks like Bennett is going to be okay and resolve his issues, but instead, sinks deeper into debt! I wanted to reach into the movie screen, drag him away from his patheticness and give him a decent meal. He does however, have one saving grace, which comes in the form of a beautiful, and down-to-earth girl who is also his top student, Amy Phillips (Brie Larson – 21 Jump Street, Rampart, Scott Pilgrim vs. the World). An unassuming friendship forms which develops into more than Bennett can initially accept, but eventually convinces himself of its authenticity. Bennett’s callous actions cause him to involve Amy and two other students in his ‘other life’, placing their lives in severe danger. This changes his egocentric game somewhat and triggers a change in strategy demanding a quick resolution to his dilema.
The Gambler shows us a substantially less buff, Marky Mark. Wahlberg shed almost 30kg in an attempt to look more like the character he was to portray. However, in an interview with USA Today he stated that losing the weight was easy compared to learning to play the part of a literary professor, labelling it as one of his “greatest and most rewarding challenges”.
Jessica Lange (American Horror Story, Big Fish, Cape Fear), is excellent as Bennett’s mother, Roberta. It’s been a while since she was cast in a decent movie. John Goodman (A screen legend starring in almost 100 movies since 1983 including: Argo, O Brother, Where Art Thou?, The Big Lebowski, and countless TV shows), is awesome as the menacing loan shark, Frank.
For his third attempt at directing a feature film, Rupert Wyatt (The Escapist, Rise of the Planet of the Apes) has done a sensational job. I applaud his stylish interpretation of William Monahan’s (Oblivion, Edge of Darkness, The Departed) screenplay which is perfectly complemented by the excellent cinematography work of Greig Fraser (Foxcatcher, Zero Dark Thirty, Killing Them Softly).
If you like The Gambler, you might also like: The Hustler (1961), Risky Business (1983), The Colour of Money (1986), Rounders (1998), 21 (2008), Runner, Runner (2013), Focus (2015).
The Movie Lad rates this: Four out of a possible five large chips on black.