When you think of Mark Wahlberg, you cannot help but associate him with macho films like Ted, Shooter and 2 Guns – all films that shaped his career into the man’s man actor. It would hardly be surprising if his next film was The Expendables 4. Yet, unconventionally – and to his advantage, he stars in The Gambler, and shows his raw talent as he plays a gambling-addicted novelist turned literary professor at a university.
Based on the 1974 cult classic of the same title, which starred James Caan, this is a usual seeming Hollywood remake. The film follows Jim Bennet (Wahlberg), an addict who does not know when to quit – even when he is losing and has nothing left to bet. Getting the money was never a problem, but knowing when to walk away was. Soon, he is left in a situation where he owes a casino owner over $240,000 debt, so turning to various loan sharks (John Goodman and Michael K. Williams included), he has been given seven days to pay it all back in full. So the clock starts ticking.
But, it is not a film directly about gambling, but more a film about a man who has lost everything and struggles with starting new with dirty self-redemption. All whilst having an inappropriate relationship with one of his students (Brie Larson).
However, the anti-hero type premise does not pay off, as the character is not a slight bit likeable, only miserable and frustrating through his own cynicism; even when the stakes are high, and the risks large, he doesn’t care. Which, why would we care either? It’s disconnected and completely un-relatable.
Through no fault of Wahlberg – who acts exceptionally (and lost an incredible 61 pounds for the role), The Gambler just misses the mark as screenwriter, William Monahan, tries too hard to over complicate the story with a path self-destruction and profound narcissism.
As much as it tries to be, it is not in the same quality as other gambling-addicted flicks like 21 or Rounders, instead, a slow, downward spiral of disconnected underdevelopment.