Take a Shot: each time Jim loses
Take a Drink: For Mark Wahlberg wearing sunglasses indoors
Take a Shot: anytime a character is told “fuck you”
Take a Drink: whenever Marky Mark is beat up
Take a Shot: whenever Jim looks indifferent
By: Matt Conway (Four Beers) –
From hip hop meme to respected actor, Mark Wahlberg’s career has taken quite a few interesting turns. If you asked anyone two decades back that the guy that gave us “Good Vibrations” would be a solid actor, a lot of people would have laughed. Yet now, Mark Wahlberg has built a solid career as an actor, staring in a lot of hit films like Ted, The Departed, and Lone Survivor.
Despite being a movie star, Wahlberg has done a nice job of sticking to his guns and doing a lot of interesting projects. From more serious dramas like The Lovely Bones to the black comedy Pain and Gain, Wahlberg does try to be versatile, even if it does not always pan out. His latest project The Gambler is an updated version of the classic 1974 James Caan film. While an interesting attempt, The Gambler (2014) is only a so-so film.
The Gambler follows Jim Bennett, a literature college professor and gambler who is down on his luck. His grandfather recently passed away and he has a massive gambling debt. The film follows Jim as he tries to get his life back together.
As always, Mark Wahlberg does solid work in the lead role. This is not the type of role we are used to seeing Wahlberg in, as instead of being a more likable charming guy, he is rather a more imperfect character. He brings a lot of energy into the role, including his passionate lectures which are some of the film’s highlights. Wahlberg holds his own in the classic role, which is all one could ask.
The rest of the supporting cast also does a respectable job. Brie Larson is one of the more underrated young actresses, especially after her breakout performance in last year’s Short Term 12, and continues to do solid work here. Larson and Wahlberg have great chemistry together in their respective scenes, and I honestly wish they shared more screentime together. Both Jessica Lange and John Goodman do good work as well in two very showy roles.
From a technical aspect, The Gambler looks and sounds quite good. Director Rupert Wyatt, who recently directed the solid Rise of the Planet of the Apes does a respectable job in his first outing post-Apes. The film moves at a good clip, with its 112 minute running time lacking any sort of lull or dull point. The cinematography by Greig Fraser looks quite good, and the music by Jon Brion and Theo Green features some great songs, including another great M83 track.
The Gambler also tries to tackle some big themes that caught me by surprise. This is especially the case during the lecture scenes, in which Wahlberg discusses ideals such as desire and what is happiness. These ideals add to the film thematically.
These themes; while interesting, are not built up enough throughout the film’s running time. Aside from the lecture scenes, it seems like the rest of the film is instead occupied by other aspects, leaving the more interesting themes being left at bay. This is a shame, because these ideals I felt added a lot to the film and the character of Jim as a whole.
The script in general is a mess. Adapted by William Monahan, who won an Oscar for his work on The Departed, Monahan seems a bit overwhelmed with the amount of characters and ideals present, leaving a great deal of them half-baked. This is especially the case with Jim’s relationships with his mom played by Lange and one of his students by Larson. Both relationships are supposed to have a big impact on the character, but neither have the screen time to truly flourish.
One of the ways this adaptation of The Gambler tries to reinvent itself from the original is the dialogue. Monahan writes dialogue very similarly to the hard-hitting lines that made audiences laugh and somewhat frightened in The Departed, but these type of lines just feel kind of out of place. Hearing bald John Goodman yelling vulgarities just felt like a cheap way to get a reaction from audiences rather than well-written dialogue.
While the film looks quite good, the glitzy look for the film goes for is more of a disadvantage than an advantage. The Gambler never takes a truly gritty look at these underground casino locations or gangster-infested areas, making some of these places look more glamorous and less scary. The film seemed like it could have used more of an edge when tackling some of the film’s darker aspects.
Advertisements are selling The Gambler as a crime thriller, and that is very misleading considering the film never feels very thrilling. The third act focuses on a big game that decides the fate of Jim and some of the people in his life, but as an audience it’s hard to be on edge when the main character himself seems almost indifferent whether he lives or dies. The film also wastes a big opportunity when it comes to the gambling scenes themselves, not building the hands up in a dramatic way.
The biggest difference between the classic 1974 version and this so-so adaptation is the protagonist. Mark Wahlberg gives it his all, but the character itself is nowhere near as intresting as James Caan’s great take in the original version. It’s hard to blame Wahlberg for this, as it’s hard to envision most actors stepping in and delivering an equal performance to that off Caan.
While an admirable adaptation of the 1974 classic, this update of The Gambler never is quite as enthralling as the original. Wahlberg gives it his all, but this just seems like a film that should have never had a remake in the first place.