by Stephen Jordan
2 out of 5 stars
(Makes for a decent trailer though right?)
So this was definitely an experience I was not expecting. The Gambler is a remake of the 1974 film of the same title starring James Caan. I’ve never seen that one, so I’m going to have to judge this remake purely on its own merits without comparisons to the original. I have to say that the movie starts out to be very promising. We’re introduced to this guy, Jim Bennett (Mark Wahlberg) sitting beside the deathbed of his grandfather. Immediately the dialogue catches me. It isn’t vague or basic, it is very detailed and layered, often poetic and intellectually grand. I was excited; I thought that this was certainly going to be an extremely well written film.
The overall premise is that Jim is a literature professor, who is addicted to gambling and is in some debt, serious debt. He is one of those unfortunate souls you would never want to come across, the kind who just continues to dig himself deeper and deeper into the hole they’re standing in. Jim is trying to pay off his debts, of course by gambling more, but when he loses, he has to find somebody to loan him cash. And another person. And another. And you already know where this is going.
The guy continues to borrow from this person and this person, each time causing more problems for himself and making new enemies. John Goodman plays one of these people, someone who is asked for a loan by Jim, and Goodman plays a very menacing adversary. It has a lot to do with his shaved head and the dialogue he is given, it’s all quite good. The story here is setting you up for a situation where the guy has his back up against the wall, he’s surrounded on all corners, and you’re thinking how is he ever going to make it out alive? Well…it was definitely that…at first…
The plot continues this way, even to the point where Jim borrows 6 figures from his own mother, Roberta (Jessica Lang), and messy circumstance reveals some ugly aspects of Wahlberg’s character, to say the least. It’s clear that Jim is unhappy, and in a sick and unhealthy way, lik es losing. It’s that kind of broken emotional state where someone just loathes the life that they live, and need a constant reminder that they’re unhappy and not good enough. You begin to wonder if Jim is addicted not necessarily to gambling, but to losing. Every time he gets a win, he has to keep going until he loses a bet. Basically, we are left sitting around and waiting for the random opportunity when he will win big and pay off all his debts.
He continues to ask for loans, even after failing to pay people. And, strangely, they don’t kill him. These crooked, shady men he owes, just seem way too lenient and generous with this guy. With the amount of money he owes, he would have gotten some fingers cut off, or given a concussion and put in the hospital, or have a leg broken. None of that happens. So the danger goes right out of the window. I was never fearful for his life. They just did that lame thing villains always do, tie the main character to a chair and lecture. Maybe punch him in the face once, and continue to give him rope and more chances to fail. It’s absurd, I cannot believe how many times I rolled my eyes at how kind they were to this gambling degenerate. And make no mistake, he is a degenerate. He’s not a good man.
I found myself liking the film less and less, until I flat out started to hate it and I walked out so angry. I was shocked. The ending of this movie may completely throw you off, and I wouldn’t blame you if that was your reaction. Because it was mine. It wants to be a character study, but it does not completely succeed at that goal. I could not for the life of me figure out what this movie was trying to say. It was aggravating. It’s not that the script was misguided or didn ‘t put in effort, it put in too much effort. So much so that it all felt so confusing and the movie seemed like a dizzying labyrinth of pseudo -intellectual philosophizing about life and determination and purpose. That Gambler feels like an honest and driven attempt at that, but it’s result is mind-numbing and, dare I say, pretentious.