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film criticism by maryann johanson | since 1997

The Gambler movie review: to bet, or not to bet?

The Gambler yellow light

It doesn’t quite work as a package, but Wahlberg is a real pleasure to watch as he crafts a portrait of a tormented anti-hero with an apparent death wish.
I’m “biast” (pro): like Mark Wahlberg

I’m “biast” (con): nothing

(what is this about? see my critic’s minifesto)

I think you’re the kind of guy who likes to lose.” So someone pegs Jim Bennett, child of privilege, literature professor, and dude in to an illegal Los Angeles casino run by Korean gangsters for $240,000. Which he has to repay in seven days, or else. But a perverse pleasure in losing — blackjack and roulette seem to be his entertainments of choice — is only a small part of Bennett’s intriguing, but most definitely anti-heroic, complexity. Mark Wahlberg (Transformers: Age of Extinction), as Bennett, has never been this good: he actually makes us buy that Bennett is a modern-day Hamlet of a sort with a suicidal bent that comes from just not being the brilliant novelist he dreams of being, a tormented not-quite-genius coddled and protected by his family’s money who, we figure, simply wasn’t hungry enough to keep at his art. (There’s a lot of stuff in Bennett’s university lectures, both on their surface and in their undercurrents, about the bitterness of the wannabe genius who cannot abide seeing talent in others. It’s here where Wahlberg’s rough charm works best: he’s the sort of teacher you’d love at the time and later figure he was at least half full of shit.) It’s as a character study that this loose remake of a 1974 flick starring James Caan works best. The twisty crime-thriller roundrobin in how Bennett borrows from other gangsters (John Goodman [The Monuments Men], also at the height of his game, and Michael Kenneth Williams [The Purge: Anarchy]) in order to pay off the Koreans and trick them all is convoluted yet rather rote; and Bennett’s romance with a student (Brie Larson: Short Term 12) is completely unconvincing and a little bit icky. But in crafting a portrait of a man who wants to “get to nothing” so he can “start over,” Wahlberg is a real pleasure to watch.

See also my #WhereAreTheWomen rating of The Gambler for its representation of girls and women.

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The Gambler (2014)
US/Can release: Dec 25 2014
UK/Ire release: Jan 23 2015

MPAA: rated R for language throughout, and for some sexuality/nudity
BBFC: rated 15 (strong language, sexualised nudity)

viewed at a private screening with an audience of critics

official site | IMDb
more reviews: Movie Review Query Engine | Rotten Tomatoes

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