UK Release Date: 23rd January 2015
Runtime: 111 minutes
Director: Rupert Wyatt
Writer: William Monahan
Starring: Mark Wahlberg, Brie Larson, John Goodman, Jessica Lange
Synopsis: An arrogant literature professor finds his life falling apart when his other existence as a reckless high stakes gambler catches up with him in the form of some brutal loan repayments.
When trailers for The Gambler – a remake of the James Caan thriller – started to appear, they promised a slick drama from the director behind Rise of the Planet of the Apes. Unfortunately, the film that was churned out in the end is an utter mess without an ounce of intrigue.
Jim Bennett (Mark Wahlberg) leads a hectic double life as a literature professor by day and, by night, a high stakes gambler with friends in low places. In trouble with a number of ruthless loan sharks, he turns to another (John Goodman) in order to bail him out. Meanwhile, student Amy (Brie Larson) becomes aware that there is more to her professor than meets the eye.
The issue with The Gambler is that it absolutely fails to make its audience feel anything for its protagonist. It’s impossible to empathise with Wahlberg’s character, Jim, because he never acts in a way that is recognisably human. Everything about him is macho wish-fulfilment, from his flair at the blackjack table to the gorgeous college student who wants to jump into his bed. He’s a cipher for performative masculinity, which makes him impossible to see as a rounded, interesting character.
| "A wise man’s life is based around fuck you. The United States of America is based on fuck you."
The character isn’t helped by Wahlberg’s shoddy performance. As he morphs from arrogance to lust, through to panic, there’s never any flicker of light or humanity behind his eyes. The Gambler’s central performance is empty, leaving behind a film without any depth.
The same can be said for the film’s supporting cast. Michael K Williams and John Goodman are initially interesting as two vastly different loan sharks, but their characters become lazy criminal caricatures by the time the credits roll. Brie Larson, on the other hand, is never anything more than a tag-along on Wahlberg’s kamikaze journey to the gutter. It’s impossible to invest in a character that even the script fails to care about.
There is, at least, the direction of which to speak with a little praise. Rupert Wyatt does have real energy behind the camera, but he struggles to rise above the generic trappings of the crime thriller. The casino sequences, especially, feel hopelessly generic. It’s like we haven’t moved on cinematically since the likes of Dr No and Goldfinger.
| "I see things in terms of victory or death."
Above all else, though, The Gambler seems to revel a little too much in the glamour of its central character and the fetishisation of the blackjack table. The narrative teaches you that, although things might get a little dicey on the way, you can be as reckless as you want and everything is likely to turn out better than you could possibly imagined.
Gamble responsibly, it says, unless you’re wearing some fancy shades.
Pop or Poop?
With its fast cars, beautiful women and bountiful wads of cash, The Gambler is almost certainly the most blokey movie of 2015 thus far and one of the most bone-headed.
Wahlberg is a vapid loser in the midst of an ensemble of nothing performances, guided by a script without a drop of wit or insight. This one’s not even worth a roll of the dice.
Do you agree with my review? Let me know in the comments section.