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The Gambler (2014)

May 24, 2015

Starring: Mark Wahlberg, Brie Larsen, John Goodman, Jessica Lange
Director: Rupert Wyatt (Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes)

Bottom Line: “One man, two lives.” More like no life. And there’s very little life in Rupert Wyatt’s remake of 1974’s The Gambler starring James Caan. Mark Wahlberg plays a college literature professor who not only seems to get off on gambling for high stakes, but also on belittling the people that deal the cards. He treats his mother like she’s another loan shark and makes sure his students know they are unimportant in the grand scope of the world. He borrows money liberally and paying it back is of little concern to him – he’d rather borrow more and take a shot with it. And his style of betting is pretty detrimental. If you bet everything you have and then double your bet every time you win, there’s only one possible outcome: eventually you will lose it all. Because of this, there is very little tension during the gambling scenes. You know what’s going to happen and, even worse, you want it to. Because this is a man that no one could possibly ever want to root for. You want a good, tense gambling scene? Watch In America and wait for the family to go the fair.

I find Mark Wahlberg’s acting to be pretty hit or miss and, for me, The Gambler was a miss. Perhaps it’s a function of a weak script, but I had a really hard time taking his character seriously in this movie. The performance pretty much amounts to strutting around with a smirk on his face and acting like he’s better than everyone else. This guy is at rock bottom and you’d never know it if you were an outsider. He asks someone in his class “do I look happy?” and even though the answer is supposed to be an implied no, he actually seems pretty content with his situation. As one character says to him: “you want to lose” and it sure seems true.

As someone that has had gambling and alcohol dominate their life to the point of bottoming out on multiple occasions, The Gambler just didn’t feel very authentic to me. I can relate to the compulsion of gambling my last dollar and I can even relate to borrowing money to gamble while worrying about how I’ll pay it back later. But what I can’t relate to is a man with no glimpse of humanity. There isn’t a second in this film where they show you even a morsel of someone with a soul. I just never got the feeling that he felt the true gravity of his situation or that he even cared. And if he doesn’t care, why should we?

Replay Value: I can’t imagine watching this again.
Sequel Potential: None.
Oscar Potential: Shut out at the Oscars.

Grade: 4.5/10 (Forgettable/Watchable)

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