Jim Bennett (Mark Wahlberg) is a man who has given up on life. He is supposed to be a successful novelist, but successful novels these days only make $17,000 which has pretty much ended that dream for him. Instead he finds himself lecturing about literature to students like up-and-coming tennis star Dexter (Emory Cohen) and star college basketballer Lamar Allen (Anthony Kelley) who would rather send text messages during his classes then listen to what Jim has to say. Then there is also his toxic relationship with his mother, Roberta (Jessica Lange), who has her fortune set up thanks to the recent death of Jim’s grandfather who was one of the wealthiest men in the United States.
His life in ruins Jim decides he wants to feel pain. For him the best way to do that is to deliberately lose money in dodgy backyard casinos and end up owing money to the likes of Mister Lee (Alvin Ing), Neville Baraka (Michael Kenneth Williams) and Frank (John Goodman). These ruthless men will do anything to get there money back and that is the way that Jim likes it.
But now a slight glimmer of hope arrives for Jim. A young aspiring writer named Amy Phillips (Brie Larson), whom he labels a genius, who frequents his class has captured his mind (and maybe his heart). But is he too damaged to ever try and get anywhere with her.
With great films like Birdman and American Sniper around at the moment it has been pretty easy to not even notice that The Gambler was about to hit cinemas. That in itself is greatly disappointing because The Gambler is equal to those films in every single way and once again that we are reminded that good character piece cinema is not dead and buried.
Director Rupert Wyatt (probably most noted for Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes) has taken the respected 1974 film of the same name starring James Caan and turned it into an absolute modern day gem. Wyatt does a sensational job of taking a film that has lengthy dialogue driven scenes, eerie ‘are they real or not’ scenes and turned into a film that captures that same energy as films like Fight Club. To be honest not all will like The Gambler as Wyatt and screenwriter William Monahan do have the audience scratching their heads a lot, but if you can get past that then you’ll certainly love this film.
Perhaps one of the most surprising things about The Gambler is just how much is packed into this film. The story ranges from the dirty world of backdoor casinos and sports corruption through to an in-depth character study of a man who has completely given up on life itself. The story weaves and drifts at a sometimes slow pace, due to the well written lengthy dialogue driven scenes, yet for some reason the audience finds themselves sitting on the edge of their seat in the same way they would if they were watching the latest Hollywood action blockbuster. The mood and eerie feeling of the film are further enhanced with a brilliant soundtrack that is varied as the film itself with a wide range of music ranging from the classic Pulp track Common People to a choir led version of Radiohead’s Creep.
Wyatt also manages to get the best of his cast. It seems no matter what Mark Wahlberg does with his career people love to forget the great films he has made, films like The Departed, Boogie Nights etc and instead focus on the couple of bombs that he has delivered or the fact that he was once Marky Mark. Here though Wahlberg reminds everybody that when he is given the right material to work with he can be an acting force. Wahlberg goes through a major physical transformation here, one that could have in line to play Mick Jagger in The Rolling Stones biopic, and goes so far into the character of Jim Bennett that it is easy to see that Wahlberg has picked up a thing or two about character acting along the way.
Wahlberg really is the star of The Gambler, dominating the screen time but he is well supported by those who he takes along for the ride which include Jessica Lange (playing a very similar character to the one she plays in American Horror Story) and Brie Larson. The only actor who gets any chance of stealing a scene away from Wahlberg is the legendary John Goodman, who looks awfully unhealthy in this film but once again delivers the goods.
The Gambler is the kind of film that is going to be lapped up by people that love a good alternative film. The long scenes and lack of action may scare away some cinema goers but this is a film that is destined to become a cult classic. To be blunt this is one of those films that you watch and then tell all your friends to go and see.
Directors: Rupert Wyatt
Starring: Mark Wahlberg, John Goodman, Brie Larson, Jessica Lange
Running Time: 111 minutes
Release Date: 23 January 2015