What’s it About? Mark Wahlberg stars in this remake of the 1974 James Caan classic The Gambler. Wahlberg is Jim Bennett, an English Literature professor by day and high stakes gambler by night. He borrows money from loan sharks and his mother to pay off his debt to a crime boss, and must put it all on the line and hope to win big if he’s to survive. All the while he gets close to one of his students, Amy (Brie Larson).
Verdict: Remaking films is nothing new, but in order for them to be successful and worth watching, they need to be offering something new. Whether it’s improving on things done wrong in the original, putting a twist on it or updating it for a new generation, it needs to have something. With The Gambler, what is there to make it worth taking the time to watch it?
You have to believe that Mark Wahlberg could firstly be a high-stakes gambler, and secondly a university lecturer. The first part he pulls off: we’re used to seeing Mark play cocky characters with a bit of attitude. It’s playing the lecturer where he struggles, as he’s horribly miscast. If you don’t believe the actor as the character they’re playing, then there’s a problem with either the acting or the casting – but ultimately it’s a problem with the movie.
It probably doesn’t help that he wears dark sunglasses in too many scenes, but it feels like Wahlberg is tired and really not giving his all here, which makes the whole movie itself feel a bit tired.
Aside from not believing in Wahlberg’s very unlikable character, the whole world it’s set in feels like a movie world and not a real one – the lectures in the university especially. Most characters aren’t believable or well developed – they’re all ‘larger than life’ but without the excitement and humour this can lead to in films with personality such as Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels. The film is almost entirely devoid of humour, save for a few lines from John Goodman that might produce a smirk or two.
It’s a shame, considering all of the great people involved, that this isn’t as good as it needs to be to justify the remake. Rupert Wyatt previously directed the excellent Rise of the Planet of the Apes, so he’s a very capable director, but he’s unable to prevent this from being very run-of-the-mill fare.
The cast are very talented too. Michael Kenneth Williams can be great (as shown in Boardwalk Empire in a fairly similar role, albeit a different time period). Here, he does provide some much needed energy, but he’s not given a lot to work with. John Goodman has played a series of small roles in good films in recent years (Inside Llewyn Davis, Argo), and he at least seems like he’s having fun – spending most of his time cursing and with his shirt off. Brie Larson is good, but there’s no chemistry between her and Wahlberg; her character just exists to give him a love interest. It’s a case of everybody involved having been a lot better in other things.
The Gambler repeats itself often – there’s only so many times you can see somebody win money, lose money and then win money again, without any real character development or something else changing. The blackjack scenes are fairly well-handled to make putting cards on a table reasonably interesting, though people with no understanding of how to play may struggle to know what’s going on and we do see a lot of blackjack.
It just all feels a little lazy. You can tell broadly where the plot is going within the first 10 minutes, but it takes forever to get there. It tries to have a few twists and turns along the way, but in the end succumbs to a very unimaginative ending – for a film about taking risks, it’s played very safe, and the result is dull. The only tension created during the film relies on that which is inherent in the basketball and blackjack games, rather than that from the characters or their circumstances.
Final Words: Overall, The Gambler is a formulaic, frustrating watch. Somebody repeatedly making the same mistakes without explanation or learning from them just isn’t fun or interesting to watch. The characters and world we see on screen aren’t believable – let alone relatable – and it doesn’t have enough humour to keep it entertaining.
There are a lot of brilliant films out in cinemas this month – this isn’t one of them.
The Gambler is released in UK cinemas on 23 January.