Film - The Gambler

The Gambler

Nate McKenzie doubles down and puts it all on black for a review of Mark Wahlberg's latest movie, The Gambler. Does the film hit the jackpot or crash and burn...

Admittedly, I'm not a Mark Wahlberg fan, per se. I do not think he is a good actor. I am constantly perturbed by women who claim, based simply on their desire for the hunk persona Marky Mark, that he is a talented actor.

No. He is not. What minimal promise as an actor that he showed early on in movies such as Fear and Boogie Nights has apparently been abandoned as he realized that a great face and body, along with a dominating personality, were all that is needed to be a box office success. If Mark Wahlberg were a food he would be consumed by Elwood Blues for he is as ineffectual as dry white toast.

All of the negative things I have to say about Mark Wahlberg as a thespian are valid; but I will not take credit away from his decision making as an on screen talent and producer. He knows a great script when he reads one. The Gambler is a great script. Even though it is a remake of the 1974 version (based on a Dostoevsky novella) I have not watched the original so there will be no comparisons, only independent opinion of this film.

As if the title wasn't a dead giveaway, the movie is about a man who likes to gamble, and gamble big. $10,000 at a time in fact. But when professor and professionally terrible gambler Jim Bennett finds himself in a betting debt he can't climb out of (with a Vietnamese gambling hall owner) he finds purchase for his ascent with a new loan shark (Michael Kenneth Williams). Quickly, that decision becomes as detrimental to his progress as his previous bad choices; which we in Ohio refer to as PLD's - Poor Life Decisions.

Spiraling deeper into neo-noir self-destruction, Jim begins a relationship with a student, Amy (Brie Larson), which compounds his decision to borrow money from his mother (played by Jessica Lange) in order to pay off his debts. Eventually, the hole is too deep and Jim has to take extreme measures that will find him either six feet under or out of harms way. As the tagline eludes, "The only way out is all in". For anyone who is a fan of gambling this movie speaks volumes. Even though I noticed the subtle similarities to the highly worshipped Rounders I didn't feel like they were permeating, but rather a byproduct of the subject and completely unavoidable.

As someone who loves gambling this movie is an instant favorite. Whereas 2008's 21 was a bubblegum-pop version of Rounders, The Gambler is a grittier, more introspective, take on the brooding subject matter. The dialogue flicks by like the cards at a black jack table. Normally, every sentence uttered by Wahlberg is punctuated by a gasp of air as if his voice itself is astounded at his ability to spit out the words. In The Gambler Mark Wahlberg is forced into bouts of banter as quick hitting as any sparing partner he encountered in training for The Fighter. The thing about that is... I was impressed. Immensely. He may not have the penache with the dialogue that John Goodman has but Wahlberg owned his lines. A character with a brilliant mind for game theory would definitely have the ability to churn out thoughts in the manner that Jim Bennett does and Wahlberg makes the most of that fact.

Director Rupert Wyatt gets the most out of his cast, especially Goodman who is intimidating as Frank, "door number three" in Jim's quest to solve the ever-muddling riddle of his predicament. Wyatt utilizes shots that display Goodman's voluminous physical form coupled with his penchant for wisdom creating a Buddha figure that plays against Wahlberg's tragic protagonist perfectly.

Although I felt that basketball game scene was well overdressed and the final scene was somewhat long-winded, the rest of the movie was just terrific. All the elements of a classic fall from grace redemption film were present without actually revealing whether or not Jim would find that redemption.

Fast, unguarded, and introspective, The Gambler is rewatchable and should stay near the top of "best of" lists covering the genre for many years to come.

Image - IMDb.