The Gambler (2014) – Review

4 Stars

Mark Wahlberg stars as a destructive addict whose sole joy in life is wagering high amounts of money that he doesn’t have the means of paying off. The Gambler is an updated retelling of James Toback’s fantastic screenplay, this version has been covered by Oscar-winning scribe William Monahan, and nearly everything works. From the small supporting characters to the lead, all have juicy lines to savor and the up-to-the task casting makes for an easily digestible movie-going experience.

Jim Bennett (Wahlberg) is a literature professor by day, but he truly comes alive at night when he frequents an underground casino. In the initial scene we see Jim gambling away vast sums of money and getting in deep with two different loan-sharks. The Koreans who run the establishment are owed 200,000, a dangerous street hood (Michael K. Wiliiams) is owed 60,000, and Jim has seven days to pay off the debt or suffer. This forces the addict to reach out to his wealthy family for help, his frustrated mother (Jessica Lange) agrees to give him the money, with the stipulation that it’s the last he’ll ever get from her. In one of the film’s best scenes. Jim rids himself of the money and the relationship with his mother, over a few hours at a blackjack table, resulting in his loss of nearly $300,000.

With time running out til the payment date, Jim is coerced into asking one of his students, a star athlete on the basketball team, to shave points and cover the betting spread. Not, before borrowing even more money from a third source, the lethal mafia figure Frank (John Goodman). Goodman seems to be channeling Marlon Brando in the role, but his nearly two-minute monologue about financial security and a position of power in America is outstanding.

Wahlberg handles the title role with quite assurance, he behaves like a spoiled brat who’s been bailed out of trouble too many times before. This makes the risky nature of his character all the more frustrating, this is a character who has it all but continually attempts to end-up with nothing. Lange has a fantastic scene outside the bank where she sets the terms of her final loan with her wayward son, and Michael K. Williams slides through the movie with his cool menacing bravado intact. The Gambler has been beautifully photographed, staged and edited, There is an assured professionalism behind the picture that shines through in every department. While the original is regarded as a 1970s classic, this retelling has successfully transplanted the story for a new generation, arguably more effective than its predecessor. One of the top ten films of 2014.

Director: Rupert Wyatt
Stars: Mark Wahlberg, Brie Larson, John Goodman, Jessica Lange, Michael K. Williams

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