Review of the Gambler Movie (2014) Review of the Gambler Movie (2014)
3.5
Whether playing or watching, gambling has always been one of the most exciting and thrilling pastimes, from casino gambling, poker games, horse betting, hustling... Review of the Gambler Movie (2014)

Whether playing or watching, gambling has always been one of the most exciting and thrilling pastimes, from casino gambling, poker games, horse betting, hustling and everything in between. Hollywood industry has felt the breeze of its popularity and released many gambling-based movies that you must watch if you haven’t already.

If we talk about a famous gambling movie “The Gambler,” then we can say that it is an efficient and slick remake of the superior 1974 original that starred James Caan as a college professor with personal devils he dealt with by tempting fate at the gaming tables. The Gambler movie handles casino gambling addiction and James Caan as a university professor with a gambling obsession. Caan’s character falls into a path of self-destruction as the movie proceeds along, which also affects his mental health. As his mental state becomes critical, his need for kicks only extends to a point where his life is at risk. This solid movie works as a warning against gambling obsession and its consequences.

Fully four decades after releasing the original, Robert Chartoff and Irwin Winkler (the producers), joined by other associates, are back for another try with a story that did not show a hit at that time but continues one of Paramount’s stellar headlines of its great early 1970s period. James Toback, writer of the 1974 gambler movie, is acknowledged in this remake as an executive producer along with current writer William Monahan, who has pushed the action from the goombah-dominated streets of New York to the graceful gambling Asian salons of Southern California, even as he has sensibly retained the schizophrenic brainy-base character, split of the central character.

Here in The Gambler (2014) movie, Mark Wahlberg (Main lead) holds self-loathing and personal free fall in a calm but perversely exciting look at a man who not only walks on the wild road but seems to want to take up home there.

In the first scene, Jims’ (Mark Wahlberg) rich, dying grandfather said that he’d inherit nothing from him, Jim Bennett quickly establishes himself as the reckless sort prone to risking everything. As he runs up winnings at an exclusive coastal gambling spa operated by a Mr. Lee (Alvin Ing), Jim never sets anything behind, doubling his profits at blackjack casino game until he loses each and everything, which may be what he strongly wants.

Jim has taken the loan from Mr. Lee $240,000, and the circumstances got more serious when he gambles to $20,000 by a loan shark Neville (Michael Kenneth Williams) to support him rise back, and he blows through that too. Jim doesn’t want to take help of his steely Beverly Hills mother (an excellent Jessica Lange), whose wealth may be a significant reason why he thinks he’ll always be saved from trouble, but she declines to help – until, that is, she takes him to the bank and gives him everything he needs.

The real base of Jim’s wildness only gets clear in the wake of his fierce mother’s generosity, but then the man’s living generally shows a confusing duality. This confirmed risk-seeker, who is pulled to the low life, holds down a day work as an associate professor of literature. With his students he’s openly confrontational, mixing among them in the lecture hall while superficially teaching Shakespeare to inspire them in sometimes harshly personal ways.

Three students, all high achievers, interest him: Lamar (Anthony Kelley), a stellar basketball player who, a junior, is rolling toward turning pro now, Dexter (Emory Cohen), the best tennis player with a reserved nature, and Amy (Brie Larson), whom Jim singles out as the only shining writer in the class. “If you’re not a genius, don’t bother,” Jim announces, noting his encouraging but unremarkable first novel printed some years back.

This call to Amy has the aspired effect that Jim might have secretly thought – it excites her interest in him, to the point that they head off together on a desert trip that ends up, accidentally, in some Indian casinos, where Jim’s worst senses once again find the upper hand, throwing him to a new low of risk. The expansion of the female role from the mere tag-along played with unique beauty by Lauren in the original to a student who declares her intention to inflame an inappropriate bond with her professor is one of the few rises listed in Monahan’s script. The screenplay is striking for some of the boldly talks written for the grandiloquently thoughtful underworld figure presented with worldly-wise connection by John Goodman.

The gambler is pushed to act a bit otherwise he would not consider, which is to lean on the vulnerable Lamar to change the result of a basketball game. After that director Wyatt and writer Monahan have made decision that they will make it more audience-friendly and creative than the bloodily bleak one director Karel Reisz worked in the original.

More about the Characters of the Movie

In nearly all scenes, Mark takes the essential role with what could be called determined élan. Jim spares no one in his circle, beginning with himself, and his open chatter with his selected students stands in sharp contrast with his limited ability to communicate openly with his grandfather and mother. His gambling need goes beyond obsession into something different; the causes behind it are not precisely spelled out but have to do with critical family matters and emotional twist. All the same, Jim remains to some reach an unreachable personality, someone you condole or shake your head over rather than sympathize with.

The supporting characters are well engraved, from John Goodman as a Buddha of the criminal world and Lange’s keen portrait of a superficially strict mother to smart work from Larson as a bright and bold student, Kelley as the skilled but questioning loops star and Williams as a multifaceted and expressive crime figure.

Practically without any exemptions, the dialogues of the movie are pitched at a stage of cutting, hyper-articulate, testosterone-fueled bluster that quickly announce itself as Monahan’s work. In that respect, the script proves a strong fit for Mark, who may be no viewer’s opinion of a professorial kind, but who understands how to throw off Monahan’s screenplay, as he did in his Oscar-nominated appearance in “The Departed.” Here, playing a person who is so annoyed with his coddled, smug presence that he can only feel full of life by gambling everything, Mark declares no less ferociously expressive – too expressive, honestly, to the point where you want that Jim would spend less time sounding off about what an abandoned shell he’s grown, and more time simply being.

If we again talk about the actresses, then Lange works in upping the heartfelt ante in her few scenes as the angered mother, reacting to her son’s difficulty with equal parts scorn and terror. Larson, so good in “Short Term 12,” is a beautifully poised presence here, but it’s one of the film’s more apparent failures that it gives us no real sense of Amy’s rational potential; the time she falls into bed with Jim is the time she desists to be a figure of interest. Williams and Goodman bring exclusively strong variations on the character of the waxing philosophical about their plans and never resorting to physical violence unless needed, while Richard Schiff has an engaging scene as a pawnbroker whom our hero proposes in his hour of need.

But it’s John Goodman who lifts every scene. As a terrifying loan shark, John Goodman raises the material, showcasing the dark fun that Wyatt was going for. But, overall, that comedy doesn’t land. Watching a horrible pessimist persistently destroying his good fate isn’t as fun as it sounds.

Wyatt’s direction is brisk, efficient, with the odd moment of brilliance and an excellent ear for tuneage, changing from Dylan, Chopin, and Pulp to superb use of Dinah Washington’s This Bitter Earth. He also gets effective surroundings out of the strange world of LA’s Asian gambling caves. What he doesn’t do is include Miller’s condition with a feeling of dread. Big numbers count down the moment to pay-back day, but it is limited in the way of anxiety or confusion. And in the end, it’s hard to connect with a smart man who times and again cleans easy get-outs down the toilet.

As far as movie quality works, the director did an excellent job. This movie is clear and straightforward. There are no roving cameras, no crazy lighting, and no lens flashes. This is pure story-telling, but, honestly, far too pure. What is baffling about the movie is that the story could have been written on a single page of A4. There’s very modest to it. If I tell you to write me a gambling-based story, this is what you would have written four times out of five. So how does it last for two full hours?? I’m not sure, but it does. There are a lot of dialogs to wade through, that tells you what you already know, and there’s even more dialog about existentialism, the future, and English literature that fills time without purpose. There’s nothing that eventually joins it into the story beyond the point that you find out Jim hates his job.

The Story – In short

Associate professor of literature Jim Bennett is in debt at an under gambling business, and he only has seven days to return it. He borrows from Neville (Michael Kenneth Williams) and fails again. He borrows from his mother (Jessica Lange) and drops still more. In class, he inspires a beautiful student, Amy (Brie Larson), and starts an indefinitely inappropriate relationship with her. While, another of his students, as we mentioned above, are top basketball player Lamar (Anthony Kelley); compelled by Neville, Jim slowly influences Lamar to throw the big game. Then, to pay off the whole thing – including debt to a dark, windy underworld person (Goodman) – Jim gambles everything he has on a spin of the roulette wheel casino game.

Is It Any Good?

The Gambler (2014) is another Hollywood remake, and, as usual, it’s neither as good as the original nor bad. In this situation, that would be the better The Gambler (1974), directed by Karel Reisz, written by James Toback, and starred James Caan. That movie caught a moment, while the remake one. Still, taking the new movie all by itself, it does have some less. And, like the original, it also has something to tell about the human state.

Mark is mesmerizing in the lead role, reckless and encouraged but helplessly drawn to criminals life and at the same time facing his students with hard realities about writing. Writer William Monahan crafts a script full of stylized dialogue, giving stars like John Goodman fashionable stuff to chew on. And director Rupert Wyatt dives his characters into a slick-sleazy vision of a gambler’s world. In a way, it’s more exciting and less intense than the original, but adequate of a cautionary story that it’s still worth a look.

What is most inspiring about the movie, though, is what it means about the status of leading men in Hollywood. From the starting, The Gambler has been a deadly work of art. Dostoevsky wrote it under circumstances of nearly impossible constraints. In the center of a habit to gambling, to raise cash, he made a crazy deal with a publisher that he would write a notable novel within a few months or else lose control of his publishing privileges for nine years. He would actually fall back from the roulette tables, dictate pieces to his wife-to-be, and then return to the tables. The Gambler has always been about artistic risk-taking as much as financial risk-taking. It was probably not entirely logical for Mark Wahlberg or James Caan to execute their film versions. Sometimes, you have to do something stupid and crazy to prove to yourself that you’re completely human. In the end, we can say that the Gambler (2014) is a must watch movie!

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Jon Dingle Editor

A film journalist, writer and a filmmaker in business for over 20 years. I am passionate about movies, television series, music and online games.