Review by Derrick Carter
Running Time: 1 hour 51 minutes
MPAA Rating: R for Language throughout, and for some Sexuality/Nudity
Directed by: Rupert Wyatt
Written by: William Monahan
Starring: Mark Wahlberg, John Goodman, Brie Larson, Michael K. Williams & Jessica Lange
I skipped THE GAMBLER when it hit screens last December for a number of reasons, but mainly because of the poor reception and lame marketing. This movie looked as generic as its title, not to mention that it’s also a remake of an acclaimed 70’s film. On a passing whim, I decided to shell out a dollar to rent THE GAMBLER from a Redbox and I’m pretty surprised by how much I actually liked this film. It doesn’t deserve to win awards and it definitely isn’t for everybody, but 2014’s THE GAMBLER is a decent crime-drama that left me satisfied.
Jim Bennett is a college literature professor by day and a compulsive gambling addict by night. His inability to control his addiction leads to him owing a lot of money to three very dangerous people. Jim tries to find solace in a burgeoning relationship with one of his students, but finds that his gambling habits may result in him meeting an untimely death and those around him possibly meeting similar fates. Jim tries to concoct a plan to pay off these three loan sharks, but will he be able to pull it off or walk away clean?…
THE GAMBLER takes a little while to get going. There’s an assured style to the whole film, even if it might seem misguided in a couple of areas during the first act. The visuals are slick. The costumes look nice. There are also a number of really cool song choices on the soundtrack. This movie definitely looks good on the technical side of things, but struggles with messy pacing that sputters to a start and only really takes off in the second half of the movie. The plot as a whole is predictable, but fun to watch nonetheless. There are a couple of points that get unceremoniously abandoned throughout the film, including Jessica Lange being totally underused as Jim’s mother. The script also cheats in a few ways offering easy outs, but I was entertained in spite of these silly coincidences.
The real reason you should watch THE GAMBLER is because of the performances. Mark Wahlberg does a solid job of establishing Jim as a really hateable character at the start and then turning him into someone you can root for by the end. At the beginning of the film, I really didn’t like this self-destructive protagonist at all and was worried that I would hate the film as a result, but Wahlberg injects pain and honesty into this man suffering from harmful habits that are hard to break. As mentioned before, Jessica Lange is underused, but shines in what brief screen time she does receive (including an honest and heartbreaking moment). Brie Larson is okay as Jim’s love interest, but there’s not a whole lot to her character. Finally, John Goodman and Michael K. Williams shine as two of the villains. This is especially true of Goodman who delivers the single best monologue in the entire film (going on about having a “Fuck you” position in life and using it). Williams is good as a loan shark. Even if his character falls prey to a pit of clichés, he still comes off as threatening despite his familiar character type.
Overall, I have to give THE GAMBLER credit. This movie was a lot better than I was expecting it to be. On the negative side of things, it’s predictable, has a fair share of clichés and easy-outs, and moves at an uneven pace. On the positive, the performances are pretty great from nearly everyone involved and it winds up being an entertaining crime-drama as a whole. This might not reinvent the wheel of this genre (it’s a remake after all), but THE GAMBLER serves as a decent flick that you can kick back and kill some time with. Not perfect or necessarily great, but still a pleasant surprise.