The Gambler (2014)

The Gambler (2014)
  • Time: 111 min
  • Genre: Crime | Drama | Thriller
  • Director: Rupert Wyatt
  • Cast: Mark Wahlberg, Jessica Lange, John Goodman


Jim Bennett is a risk taker. Both an English professor and a high-stakes gambler, Bennett bets it all when he borrows from a gangster and offers his own life as collateral. Always one step ahead, Bennett pits his creditor against the operator of a gambling ring and leaves his dysfunctional relationship with his wealthy mother in his wake. He plays both sides, immersing himself in an illicit, underground world while garnering the attention of Frank, a loan shark with a paternal interest in Bennett’s future. As his relationship with a student deepens, Bennett must take the ultimate risk for a second chance…


  • The Gambler is a remake of the underrated 1974 film starring James Caan. There shall be no further mention of the original from here on out as the remake needs no comparing to the original for its weaknesses to be plainly evident.

    Jim Bennett (Mark Wahlberg) is in trouble. An English professor by day and a permanent fixture in the dimly lit Korean-run gambling establishment by night, he’s up to his eyeteeth in debt. Mr. Lee (Alvin Ing) calls in his chit, telling Bennett he has seven days to pay back his $240,000 debt or else. Bennett willfully adds to his burden by getting loan shark Neville Baraka (Michael Kenneth Williams) to stake him $50,000, which he immediately gambles away; and then continually approaches underworld figure Frank (John Goodman) for money despite Frank’s many warnings that the consequences of doing business with him are not to be taken lightly.

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  • Back in 1996, I read a review on a film called Sleepers. In said assessment, the critic who wrote it noted that the actors were having quote unquote, “bad hair and face days”. Cut to 2014 and The Gambler really hammers that same notion here. Co-star Brie Larson fashions a facially caked, makeup experiment gone afoul, Jessica Lange sounds completely different and appears somewhat weathered (Tootsie wasn’t made yesterday and I have to realize that), and lead Mark Wahlberg, well he comes off looking like a latter day Jim Morrison after a three day meth binge bender. Crazy.

    Anyway, The Gambler is a remake of the 1974 James Caan film (of the same name). I haven’t yet seen the original but my colleague has (Cole Pollyea of Cole’s Collective Critiques on Film). In his review he stated that Caan’s performance was ultimately colorless, sluggish, and bland. Wahlberg donning the hat in the same role (but with a different character name), is none of these things. He’s actually quite good. He does what he can despite the notion that “Gambler’s” script in hindsight, only looks good on paper. And about that script by William Monahan (he penned The Departed). It’s a juicy mess. It forces you to listen to the actors speak in philosophical, badassery-type ways. While that’s all fine and dandy, the dialogue doesn’t always make complete sense and it sometimes fails to move the story along.

    Directed by the guy who made Rise of the Planet of the Apes (Rupert Wyatt) and produced by the same dude responsible for the inaugural 1974 entry (the unrivaled Irwin Winkler), The Gambler probes the mind of college professor turned blackjack addict, Jim Bennett (Mark “I’ve donned blue lips” Wahlberg). By day he berates his fellow students with Shakespearean interludes. By night, he’s betting ten grand a hand via the tables at an underground casino. Things get a little hairy when he realizes that he owes a monster amount of gambling debt to three hardass loan sharks. One is the actual casino owner (Alvin Ing as Lee), one is a large man who has a penchant for killing someone’s entire blood line for failure to pay up (Frank played by John Goodman), and one is another loan shark (Michael K. Williams as Neville) who has a hard on for winning money off the shaving of points (college basketball games to be exact). Bennett seems to take his monetary problems in stride and his pulse doesn’t quite reach 70. He’s also gotta make time for his student love interest (Brie Larson as Amy Phillips) and his angry mother (Jessica Lange, who loves to either hit or scream at Wahlberg’s man child). Oh and he’s still got college homework assignments to grade (yeah right).

    As a tightly edited 111 minute vehicle, The Gambler is splashy and flashy not to mention rough and ready. It’s like a homage to the go-getter genre films of the late 1970’s. Its look and feel are courtesy of Australian cinematographer, Greig Fraser (he shot Killing Me Softly which in dearth and tone, lends itself as almost a companion piece to “Gambler”). And its focus front and center, hinges on the fate of Jim Bennett. This is a hero (if you want to call him that) who you desperately want to not screw up. When he gets $260,000 from Mommy, you pray to the good lord that he won’t blow it by beating his gambling addiction (along with faithfully paying off his debts). Bully for that. Bennett is a compulsive nitwit, a puppy who keeps pooping on the floor. This dog just won’t hunt if you know what I mean.

    Wahlberg’s Bennett is also gaunt looking (it’s rumored that Mark lost an unbelievable 60 pounds for the role) and he deals in ironies, self-loathing, and the notion of “building one’s own hurdles”. He’s probably suicidal (though it’s not fully revealed), doesn’t really like himself, hinges on relegated self destruction, is unafraid of death, and despite his nasty predicament, still manages to act above or beyond anybody else (this kid’s got some serious cojones, let me tell ya). Wahlberg as usual brings his fast-talking, manneristic style of delivering lines via the part. You hate him in the first half of the film only to root for his so-called protagonistic ways towards the end. Larson (acting mostly with her eyes like in Don Jon), Goodman, Lange, and Williams also provide strong if not limited work throughout. I’ll use food metaphors in saying that their characters are merely appetizers whereas Mark’s the main entree and he’s in pretty much every frame.

    When it’s all said and done, I didn’t mind the ending of The Gambler which seems to have caught a lot of flak from critics and audience members across the country. For my dollar, I couldn’t fathom a whole lot of other ways that things could have been wrapped up. Its final sequence sort of reminded me of a neutered, less compelling version of 1998’s Rounders. The only difference is that Matt Damon’s Mike McDermott is a levelheaded, nice guy as opposed to Wahlberg’s Bennett who comes off as seriously damaged goods. Oh and speaking of Bennett, he’s obviously adhered to a sickness, a disease if you will. Listen, I don’t know much about the art of gambling but after seeing this movie, I realized that these degenerates don’t give one iota about making actual profit. They also don’t care how it effects their loved ones safety and well being. They are just in it for the thrill, the rush of being up and even more so, the rush of being down. How sad.

    Pitying slickness aside, 2014’s The Gambler has decent, unhinged supporting performances that sometimes feel like two-part cameos. It also has an underdeveloped love story (between Larson and Wahlberg’s characters) that negates tip of the tongue disappointment to it. And despite its campaigned December release, this Paramount distributee probably won’t even get so much as a sneeze from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. But it entertains you with a dirtied-up, drenched feeling that hides beneath the foreboding California sunshine. Its a “gamble” that at least breaks even.

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  • Occasionally on our blog we are graced with reviews from our celebrity friend and benefactor Mark Wahlberg. This is one such review.

    Hey guys, I’m back. And this time I was in a serious movie because a lot of you guys have been running around saying I’m not a serious actor. But you know what? I am. And you can count your lucky stars that I’m here today to explain it to you, because you probably won’t get my ambition of being in a movie like this.

    This time around, I play another character which I’m not at all. An English professor. And you better believe that I do it well, because I’m the greatest actor to have ever lived. So what, my character has a gambling problem, you’re probably at home watching too much porn.

    Read Mark’s full review at

  • I really wanted to like this movie. Even though I could hardly keep my eyes open 20 minutes into it. In the first 10 minutes of the movie, Bennet (Wahlberg) starts gambling in a secret casino. He is quite aggressive and just lets it all ride. It is clear that he owes money to people, does not gamble responsibly, and then borrows money from more. There is a clear pattern that is visible, and I wondered how this would be resolved or what other kind of questionable decisions would he have to make before he saw the error of his ways.

    Unfortunately, I didn’t really care. There was not really any tension, build-up, or empathy present in many scenes. Yes the stakes are high for Bennet, but I didn’t really care, and he didn’t really seem like he did either. Then it cuts to Bennet as a strange literary teacher. Instead of teaching about literature, he chants soliloquies to build up certain class mates. His morale and ethics as a teacher and a person are in question, but once again, it’s kind of weird and I found myself not caring at all.

    The whole professor part of the film felt unauthentic. Frank (Goodman) was the only decent part of the movie, but he wasn’t in it for but five minutes, so it’s not a reason to watch the movie.
    While I did not demand a refund, it certainly didn’t cross my mind.

  • “I was playing for Mister Lee, and for that gentleman over there. I’m not actually a gambler.”

    I don’t think it’ll be a total surprise if I’d say that “The Gambler” is about a gambling addiction. Enough movies were made that shed a light on this issue and eventually you expect while watching such a movie, that feeling will come over you that resembles that of the addict while he’s trying to make a profit at the gambling table. That intense feeling in your abdomen when you are about to win a substantial amount of money, the tension, the relief and the gnawing anger when things aren’t going as they should. And I didn’t have that feeling at all while watching “The Gambler”. In the end I looked at it in the same way as Jim Bennett (Mark Wahlberg) : indifferent, without euphoria or disappointment, as if he was observing the game from another player. It seems as if he wasn’t playing with his own money. There’s no pounding thrill like in “Rounders” where Matt Damon is trying to regain his lost fortune during a poker game. Why the hell did they actually make this film when there’s a successful (from what I’ve read) version from 1974 with James Caan?

    Jim Bennett is a university professor, a failed writer and a notorious gambler. But his gambling addiction became a sort of suicide mission. He owes a huge debt to the Korean owner of a well-known gambling house where extremely high bets are allowed, and a crafty African American moneylender. His personal attitude is the cause of him ending up in this situation. For Jim it’s all or nothing. A disastrous attitude that causes his debts to grow considerably because the profits he usually makes in gambling are nil. Actually you can say they are non-existent. If there’s one thing Jim particularly excels in, than it’s losing. Ultimately, it seems like winning on its own is no longer important for him. Fortunately, it’s not Russian roulette he plays, otherwise it would be a short film. The fact that he loses constantly, also ensures that this film actually isn’t exciting or unpredictable. The rest of the film is filled with a series of dialogues that develop into debates about truth and success, laced with sarcasm and self-pity.

    The fact that Wahlberg is the key figure in this quite boring film, isn’t exactly an asset. Let’s just say that I’m not really an avid fan of Wahlberg. Frankly, I thought he wasn’t that bad as actor in his earlier works such as in “The Perfect Storm” and “The Italian Job”, but the last four movies I saw him act in, weren’t exactly impressive. “Broken City” was a mediocre film crammed with all sorts of banalities. “Pain & Gain” was painfully bad and “2 Guns” was somnolent. How innocent and timid he looks in the earlier films, the more pretentious and snobbish he is in these last three films. Notwithstanding that this perfectly fits the character he plays in “The Gambler”, I thought he wasn’t suitable for this role. I can’t picture Wahlberg as an intellectual who teaches modern poetry and quotes Shakespeare and Robert Greene in a single sentence. I realized after a while that I know as much about Jim, as he knows about himself. Are you expecting an answer to the question why he maintains such a lifestyle ? I’m sure you will be disappointed.

    The only thing I enjoyed was the performance of John Goodman as Frank, who is sympathetic but at the same time shouldn’t be underestimated. The conversation he has with Jim in the steam room where he shakes rhetorical questions and symbolic equations out of his sleeve, is a superb fragment and a pleasure to watch. In every role Goodman succeeds, no matter how small it is, to lift it to a higher level so it’s forever engraved in your memory. I can’t think of parts he played that sucked. A true top actor. And then there’s Brie Larson and Amy, who according to Jim is a natural talent and can succeed in becoming a reputable writer. Not a distinct role (just like that of Jessica Lange) but the upcoming romance luckily remains superficial.

    Eventually I doubted whether Jim was a truly seasoned gambler or he’s simply a selfish bastard feeding upon his mothers fortune, which he gambles away without blinking an eye and without even thinking about the consequences. A kind of world-weariness which made sure that it didn’t matter to me at the end if the roulette ball landed on red or black. Maybe I would have preferred to see those gangsters ripping him apart in the end. Luckily I didn’t bet on that …

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