Review: The Gambler (2014)


Mark Wahlberg stars in The Gambler, a remake of James Caan’s  The Gambler (1974), as Jim Bennett a literature professor by day; degenerate gambler by night.

The Gambler opens with Bennett  (Wahlberg) losing big money at an illegal gambling operation – the type of place where people kill you if you don’t pay your debt. After losing a large sum of money he desperately tries to recover his massive loss by doing what any gambling addict does – gamble some more. Of course his plan fails and leaves him owing Mister Lee (Alvin Ing) a large sum of as well as Neville (Michael Kenneth Williams) – the total amount he owes is almost 3x what he started gambling with.

Now Bennett has seven days to come up with the money or he’s a dead man.

The Gambler is a straight forward film about a man who has a short time to fix a big problem. Where the film soars is during Bennett’s gambling scenes. They’re fascinating to watch. It’s not just the big money bets and high stakes that makes those scenes alluring. It’s watching someone so consumed with their addiction that they can’t find a way out. Those scenes are reminiscent of 2011’s Shame and watching a sex addict battle sex addiction with more sex. You not only wonder how Bennett going to get out, but if he can get free from his crippling addiction.

The film stumbles at points because there’s not enough time to tell this story. The Gambler already clocks in at 111 minutes, which is perfect, but the movie doesn’t do a good job using the time it has. There’s not enough invested for me to care about Bennett’s relationship with Amy (Brie Larson). There’s not enough for me to care about the Lamar (Anthony Kelley) the basketball player – even though Kelley was great in his limited role. There’s not enough about Bennett to make me care about all the philosophical rants in his classroom.

At the end of the movie they play swelling music and it doesn’t drum up any emotion.  It’s almost laughable because why would I care? How could anyone care? The film doesn’t do enough internal exploration into Bennett’s life or any real external examination to make you care. We just want to see how Bennett gets out of this pickle.

Jessica Lange and John Goodman give two incredible performances (in limited time of course) that add some much needed emotion to the story. The movie would feel completely flat without those two.

I love Wahlberg, but he’s not believable as a professor or even as an addict. It’s hard to take him seriously. We should see Bennett in various different states of depression, but that never happens. There’s Angry Wahlberg , Crazy Wahlberg, and Sad Wahlberg. If your movie needs any other kind of Wahlberg, it might be out of luck.

Even with its flaws The Gambler is fun. It’s worth a watch for Lange, Goodman, and the gambling scenes. It’s a good movie that had the ability to be great. Just like a gambler losing at the blackjack table, it just needs a little more time.

Grade: B-