You’ve got to know when to hold em, know when to fold em, know when to walk away, and know when to run.
“The Gambler” is a remake of a James Caan movie from 40 years ago about a man who seems to be the very definition of a gambling degenerate. Mark Wahlberg steps in this time to play the central role, finding himself deep in debt to the wrong people based on his driving need to bet it all win or lose. And I don’t think it’s giving too much away to say that the end result is usually lose. But does the movie overall follow suit, leaving it’s chips on the table til they all fritter away? Well, for now lets just call it a push.
There’s a lot about this movie that works. For one, I love the energy of it. It’s got a very kinetic pace and is edited keenly so that boredom never has a chance to creep in. It’s structurally sound and uses some clever camera work and movements to really jump us through the key moments of this important week in this mans life. I also thought the performances were really good. Wahlberg is solid, as are the supporting characters who each take their turn telling him how miserable his life is. And I can’t brush through this without at least taking a second to mention John Goodman, who is absolutely brilliant in his turn as a loan shark with some quick-witted and astute life advice. Which is another part where “The Gambler” succeeds, the dialog is really smart and interesting. It’s almost Sorkenesque in it’s construction and delivery and is another reason the movie has that energy to pull us through. I also thought the film did a great job at capturing the feeling of what it must be like to live life with this much risk, putting us right in Wahlberg’s shoes as his character felt the slings and arrows of his outrageous fortune at the turn of every card. Whether you’ve ever gambled or not, it’s a good sense of both the highs of the risk and the lows of the self destruction that come in giving chance the keys to your success and failure. Putting the audience right in the middle of the depravity that comes with an addiction to risk.
But that’s also the worst thing here too. It’s hard to invest in a character like this. The movie wants to build us to a point where we are rooting for this man to finally succeed or walk away with a win, but by the time we are halfway through his self destructive behavior has already caused me to pull my money from the table. I no longer want him to “win” I want him to find help, which just doesn’t seem to match the movie’s intentions. Add to this that the story doesn’t really hold much that we haven’t seen before and I think it unfortunately steals back a lot of the fun energy the technical mastery the film has invested in it.
At the end of the day, “The Gambler” is at least an interesting movie with some sharp writing and solid performances that give it a life that can be felt on screen. If only it had given us a more intriguing story and a better hero to root for it might have walked away from the table with more than a B-