The Gambler


Release: Christmas Day 2014


Written by: William Monahan

Directed by: Rupert Wyatt

Huh. So that’s what it feels like to be completely ripped off by a movie.

I mean, completely. Like, I know it’s dumb to go all-in on a movie that has received so little attention and marketing for something that features the likes of Marky-Mark, the great John Goodman and a rising star in Brie Larson, but come on. Am I this much of a sucker? I just bought into a game that keeps on taking without ever giving back. I hate the dealer. Dealer always wins.

The lovable Mark Wahlberg drops 61 pounds (!) in order to get into the depraved character of Jim Bennett, some twit who spends his nights gambling and his days professing his love for literary genius in front of a bunch of disinterested college students. The legit job is the one he enjoys less, though he does enjoy holding this appreciation for elite novelists over his students, wielding his intellectual superiority as if it were some shield designed to protect him from the stabbings of his accusers, those who don’t give a shit about English lit. But as Rupert Wyatt is about to explain, there are better tools for Jim to rail against society with.

Like a gambling addiction! In my mind, shelling out one’s salary on a game of Black Jack on a regular basis, only to lose more often than win, constitutes a legitimate disease, and Wahlberg’s Jim is very sick. For nearly two hours he seems to acknowledge all the ways in which this lifestyle is wrong for him and yet continues to revel in it as he sinks into almost insurmountable debt, eventually having to be staked by the shadiest player in the room, some crazy named Neville (Michael Kenneth Williams) just so he can play his way out of his predicament. His actions throughout this entire film reveal a man who is not only incapable of change, but immune to it. I openly embrace characters who are severely flawed; there’d be virtually no entertainment business (or compelling literature) without them. I also don’t much mind when they aren’t dealt detailed development, so long as the lack of character development doesn’t take away from the ultimate experience.

Jim Bennett could have gotten into a three-way with Brie Larson’s Amy Phillips and his own mother (Jessica Lange) and still failed to find the motivation to change his ways. And that scene might have actually been interesting. But The Gambler insists on impressing (I’m wondering if depressing is an appropriate synonym here) those who have gambled their way into the theater with how much it enjoys the smell of its own stagnation. Jim goes from owing money to the charismatic Neville, to convincing Asian mafia — there’s always a higher power to answer to — that he’s worth their trouble, to taking a trip to the bank with mom for a casual $240,000 withdrawal. That’ll be in cash, please.

And that’s of course before he comes up against the film’s actual threat, a nakeder-than-life John Goodman as Frank and his tough-guy “cabbie”/right-hand man Big Ernie (Domenick Lombardozzi). Excluding Larson, who is woefully neglected in a role that reduces her to eying Marky-Mark’s character rather than becoming a flesh-and-blood character (Larson is far more effective as a texting addict in Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s amusing Don Jon), supporting performances feel inspired. Inspired to the point where the supporting roles outweigh Wahlberg’s. When you have supporting roles more memorable than that of your lead, particularly when the lead comes in the form of a major player like Mark Wahlberg, you have a problem.

So I came out on the losing end here. That’s alright; the dealer wasn’t my type anyway. I’m sure there’s a lesson to be learned here, and I know for a fact there are a few things to become fixated on in Wyatt’s overhauling of the apparently far superior 1974 thriller with James Caan. Things like the fact that while Jim Bennett remains a perpetual screw-up, he attracts the attention of beautiful women like April. Nonsensical. The phenomenon of how we always buy into the star power of Mark Wahlberg without thinking for a second about the material that will surround him.


Naked & sweaty man-date with John Goodman

2-0Recommendation: The Gambler turns out to be a thriller without the thrills; merely a good-looking production lacking much in the way of originality, enthusiasm or particularly strong acting. Though the latter is much less of an issue, the repetition of Jim Bennett’s gambling problem becomes more than a little wearisome as this story doesn’t force any action or compelling reason to stick by his side. Wahlberg is likable, sure, but this character — and this very disappointing film — are not so much. I do not really recommend.

Rated: R

Running Time: 111 mins.

Quoted: “You’re born as a man with the nerves of a soldier, the apprehension of an angel.”

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47 thoughts on “The Gambler

  1. Pingback: DSB Spotlight: Mark Wahlberg gambles on Jim Bennett role | digitalshortbread

  2. Oh man. I could tell from the get-go that this was one I didn’t want to subject myself to. Why, oh, why would you do this to yourself, my friend?? Haha. Nonetheless, another excellent review. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I disagree with the dude bashing Rise of the Planets of the Apes.

    However, I totally agree with you about this flick. Why did they even pick Larson for the role? They could have just hired any random person off the streets for a cheaper price to deliver the same one or two lines.


    • The casting of Brie Larson is really irritating man. She had nothing NOTHING to do !!! They would have saved more money by casting some rando as well. But at least Brie Larson looks really good still. Everyoen does (save for maybe Goodman, who was actually really damn good here). Still I don’t think I’d feel good about recommending a movie to my friends based on the fact there is a 3/4’s-naked John Goodman threatening people in it. 😉


    • Not bashing Rise of the Planet of the Apes. Didn’t intend it to sound that way. I like the film, a lot in places, but if you think back to the human roles and how they are directed, they are not that strong. Think of Franco and Pinto’s scenes together, or the Oyelewo scenes with Franco. They all show those actors at their worst, arguably… the real pull of the movie for me was Caesar and the apes. I thought at the time, I wonder if that’s because the director was a bit new to the game, and the movie was pulled together by WETA’s always amazing work with motion capture performances. Something which Wyatt has admitted he had very little to do with. I thought I’d see the Gambler, and it answered my questions about Wyatt’s directorial skills.
      Sometimes new directors get puppeteered by studios in their first ‘big’ hollywood film, and the results are obviously not 100% the directors work. Smaller ensemble cast films like this show whether someone really knows how to direct, how to get the most out of his cast. I felt the opposite was true here. Yes, Goodman is always reliable, but so much more available talent could have been on display from Larson, Lange, Wahlberg. I felt that he had the writer and the cast to make a great film and failed. So, it makes me wonder how much the Rise of the Apes success was down to Wyatt, and how much down to WETA (they of Lord of the Rings etc).

      Liked by 1 person

      • Sorry for the short reply to the long message haha…

        …But I got you now and you aren’t wrong. His human relationships aren’t very strong. I do think Wahlberg brought his A game, but the rest of the characters were quite poorly handled.

        Liked by 1 person

    • Hey Daniel, thanks for coming on by! I would like to see the original to make comparisons, but I can totally believe this is the inferior version.


  4. This is a bit surprising given Wyatt’s sturdy reboot of the Apes franchise. Shame he’s not quite on his game here. I chuckled at that opening line Tom, very good! 😀



    • Yeah I can’t believe the same guy who made Rise made this thing man. Two totally different experiences, both in quality and in terms of memorableness. Hahah. Thanks Adam, glad I could provide the laughs! 🙂


  5. An astute review, boring filmmaking by Rupert Wyatt who is overrated. Think of the lame human performances from Rise of the Apes – From Franco, Pinto and Oyolewo for instance. WETAs ape creations were the highlight.
    I agree that The Gambler’s soundtrack was good though. Theo Green appears to be the main composer and also the guy picking the songs (little evidence of Jon Brion whose talents have sadly waned and mostly or totally replaced here). Liked the Rodriguez song going from phone to pond to Lombardozzi driving scene. Lots of other cool music moments.


    • Hey, thank you for taking the time to find my blog and leave a comment. Glad we’re on the same page with this film. It was indeed pretty boring.


  6. Very good review!

    I liked original film, and consider it to be underrated.

    I have not seen the remake and, based upon your review, I guess that is a good thing.


    • Hey Jonathan, yeah I would like to access James Caan’s version sometime. If just to see how much further this contemporary remake failed to live up to its heritage. Lol. If you are just a devoted fan of seeing remakes, then that could be the reason to go see this but this doesn’t beg your immediate attention.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Great review, Tom! Bummed to read Mark is less than stellar here. He’s one of my favorites and a very underrated actor, in my opinion. Brie Larson deserves better roles!


  8. Saw the trailer for this recently…its not out here yet. I was probably goong to give it a miss anyway but I definitely will give it the swerve now!


  9. Looks like I’ll have to check out the soundtrack then, eh? I do like Mark Wahlberg in some films, for sure, but he’s such a hit-and-miss actor. The trailer intrigued me, and I haven’t seen the 1974 original, so I thought I might check this out. But it sounds like it’s not worth my checking out. Perhaps I’ll give it a whirl when it comes out on DVD if I haven’t already forgotten about it by then . . .


    • That is probably your best bet for maximizing your enjoyment with this remake. 🙂 I was bummed out I dropped $10.25 on a movie that moved me to the point of an early nap-time. I have definitely dropped that money on worse production before, but this one has so much star power and a fun premise (or at least it sounded that way) that I feel this was one of the least risky choices I’ve made as far as going into a movie I know very little (or nothing) about. And yeah, wasn’t rewarded for that this time. Unfortunatley.

      You’ll have to let me know if you do ever get around to watching this one! And if you liked the soundtrack. 😉

      Liked by 1 person

  10. I don’t know. I never bought into this. The cast looked interesting but that’s really about all that appealled to me. I ended up skipping it and it sounds like it was a good choice.


    • Yes it was friend. I bought into this on the basis I have difficulty not liking Mark Wahlberg. I wouldn’t put him amongst my favorites or anything, but I certainly think he’s watchable and may be the only reason I’ll ever see Transformers: Age of Extinction (but that’s an extremely remote possibility! Lol!). I want to see the original Gambler with James Caan in it. I bet once I can start making comparisons, this one will seem much worse. A shame really. it’s got a lot of talented people involved.

      Liked by 1 person

  11. It wasn’t that I minded all of the talking, it’s just that it didn’t have anything interesting or cohesive to say at all. Good review.


    • Cohesion wasn’t the problem. Anything interesting? Oh yeah. There’s where the problem was! How many times does this man have to screw up before he gets the hint??! Ugh, this movie was such a frustration dude.


  12. Such a fail man. I was looking forward to this easily the most of all of the stuff released on Christmas, and though I haven’t seen all of them (missing Unbroken and Into the Woods) this was easily the worst. Great review.

    Also, am I the only guy who laughed a ton at Wahlberg attempting to be a professor? Least it gave some fun to this.


    • I am also behind on both of those films. 🙂 So many things came out in such a short span of time. Now I am regretting checking this out; the major selling point for me was actually Brie Larson, as I’ve had a huge crush on her ever since ‘Short Term 12,’ where she was absolutely brilliant. She was also really effective in ‘Don Jon.’ Here, she was completely wasted. So too was most of Marky-Mark’s efforts. Still likable here, but the script was just dull. Dull, dull, dull.

      You weren’t alone man, I had a chuckle about him in that environment too. I kind of thought it worked, but it was stretching credibility quite a bit all the same. 😀

      Liked by 1 person

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