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THE GAMBLER (review)

gamblerTHE GAMBLER

Written by William Monahan / Directed by Rupert Wyatt / Starring Mark Wahlberg, Brie Larson, Jessica Lange and John Goodman.

Jim Bennett: I’m not a gambler.

Remaking an acclaimed cult classic seems like it would be a daunting task, but not for Rupert Wyatt, who claims to have not even seen British New Wave filmmaker, Karel Reisz’ 1974 film, THE GAMBLER. Wyatt’s version swaps James Caan out for Mark Walhberg as Jim Bennett (previously Axel Freed), a literature professor with an existential dilemma. No matter how much money he wins, Bennett cannot help but gamble it away in underground casinos. After taking money from casino owner Mr. Lee (Alvin Ing), Bennett finds himself owing over one hundred thousand dollars. Luckily, Bennett makes this money in a quick trip to the casino, yet he then proceeds to gamble that money away again. He proceeds to take money from his mother (Jessica Lange) and two more loan sharks (John Goodman and The Wire’s Michael K. Williams), finding himself in an unimaginable amount of debt. To avoid having his bones shattered and family killed, Bennett calls on one of his students (Brie Larson) for help.

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This new version of THE GAMBLER is an entertaining film, but that does not excuse the fact that it is extremely problematic. The film’s largest problem comes from Wahlberg, who is completely miscast. This is partially due to Wahlberg’s haphazard performance, but William Monahan’s (THE DEPARTED) script doesn’t do him any favours either. Rambling lecture monologues practically cripple Wahlberg, who often seems to be impersonating a cynical version of Robin Williams’ John Keating from DEAD POETS SOCIETY. One of Bennett’s extended lectures is structured around Albert Camus’ L’Étranger (which is far too simple for literary majors). Anyone who is familiar with the famed existential classic will immediately notice that the novel’s protagonist is quite similar to Bennett. L’Étranger’s Meursault mindlessly shoots a man, killing him in one shot, and then proceeds to shoot him four more times. It won’t take a genius to compare this to Bennett, who after winning what he owes, decides to continue gambling and lose his money. The film could have simply given us a peek at the novel, maybe had Bennett reading it casually like the protagonists of so many other films, but no, that would be too subtle for THE GAMBLER. Instead, Bennett explains some half-baked idea about why Meursault chose not to shoot the man a sixth time, yet he fails to ignore the fact that the gun only held five bullets.

One of the most upsetting things about THE GAMBLER is that it really did have a lot of potential. This is a film that was written by the same man who won an Oscar for writing THE DEPARTED. Wyatt’s film seems to be trapped in the studio system. After watching interviews with Wyatt, it will become evident that the director did not have total creative control over his film. The film lacks the grit that a story like this needs. With a plot linked to L’Étranger, it’s shocking to see that THE GAMBLER doesn’t have a dark finale, instead relying on a needless romantic subplot to tie things up neatly.

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Viewers may get swept up in THE GAMBLER’s flashy blackjack sequences, but these aren’t thrilling enough to distract from the film’s many flaws. With such talents as Williams, Larson, Goodman, and Lange on screen, it’s ultimately a letdown that their characters do not develop and are given little to do. Then again, if you can buy Mark Wahlberg as a literature professor, then this might be the right bet for you after all.

2.5 sheep

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