Review: Don’t Bet Your Luck On 'The Gambler'

James Canellos ‘17 / Emertainment Monthly Staff Writer

Mark Wahlberg and Brie Larson in The Gambler. Photo Credit: Paramount Pictures.
Mark Wahlberg and Brie Larson in The Gambler. Photo Credit: Paramount Pictures.
There’s a lot riding on the shoulders of English professor Jim Bennett (Mark Wahlberg). He owes over $250,000 to an underground casino operator and a gangster, is about to lose the respect of his mother (Jessica Lange) and ruin the lives of his students (Brie LarsonAnthony Kelley). The stakes for Wahlberg himself could not be less intense, however, as lately it appears like he can do no wrong, punching out one blockbuster after another. While it’s fantastic that he’s achieved so much success, a hint of desperation and urgency is what Bennett could have used.
Bennett is the titled “Gambler” who refuses to be labeled as one throughout the film- most likely because he loses money at the same rate Wahlberg lost weight for his latest character. Bennett tried his best to juggle every relationship that he’s involved in, yet can’t see that his tunnel to redemption is closing in on him rapidly. Both Mister Lee (Alvin Ing) and Neville (Michael Kenneth Williams) squeeze Bennett to the point where he desperately seeks the help of an even more ruthless loan shark, Frank (John Goodman). Each one acts as a Christmas Carol-like ghost, reminding Bennett of the consequences that have happened, will happen and are happening. Under Rupert Wyatt’s (Rise of The Planet of The Apes) direction and William Monahan’s (The Departed) writing, the pair attempt to capture the suspense of a million-dollar blackjack game but aren’t able to sync up properly.
Mark Wahlberg and Jessica Lange in The Gambler. Photo Credit: Paramount Pictures.
Mark Wahlberg and Jessica Lange in The Gambler. Photo Credit: Paramount Pictures.
They’re both talented men who are capable of re-imagining the story of a previously existing film, while maintaining what made the original so special. However, they can’t replicate the high stakes of the original 1974 film starring James Caan. Wahlberg’s lack of empathy makes every bet feel incomplete, like he’s not being dealt a full hand. Tone-wise it’s very difficult to pinpoint what this film is going for; it’s only partially okay as a dark comedy, a character study and a suspenseful film. Instead of standing tall as one of those, it falls flat all together. The Gambler wants to believe it’s like the novels Bennett rants about in his lectures and appear to be a lot deeper and metaphorical than it actually is. In one scene Bennett proclaims: “He’s metaphorically saving that sixth bullet for himself, that’s why he didn’t pull the trigger!”. His student offers a much simpler and more probable solution, that Bennett dismisses. The film feels like it’s being told it’s a lot less layered yet refutes those claims.
Unlike Wahlberg’s character, this film should be listening to its supporting players. Lange, Larson, Kelley and especially Goodman give very good performances that aren’t utilized enough. Wahlberg’s ‘dead inside’ look and leaner physique can only keep our attention for so long. Goodman delivers another hilariously confident monologue about the words “F**k you” that should be reason enough to give him more screen time, even if he’s half-naked for most of that time. Jim Bennett is a lone wolf that really could have used this pack of actors together to dig himself out of this hole. You win some and you lose some, but like most players The Gambler loses.
Overall Grade: C-

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