release date: 25 December 2014 (Canada)
run time: 111 mins
considered: Crime, Drama, Thriller
director: Rupert Wyatt
starring: Mark Wahlberg, George Kennedy, Jessica Lange, Omar Leyva, Brie Larson, Michael Kenneth Williams, Alvin Ing, Emory Cohen, Anthony Kelley, Domenick Lombardozzi, Andre Braugher, John Goodman, Richard Schiff
movie summary: Gambling is an addiction. It is a safe bet that the majority of the human race has gambled at some point in their life, whether it be a friendly bet, a scratch ticket, or a lottery ticket. Some people do it for fun and play within their limits, while a handful do it to make a living or never know when to stop. Jim Bennett (Mark Wahlberg) is a semi-successful author turned professor at a college in Los Angeles. During the day he preaches to his students about what it takes to be successful like the world’s most famous writers and poets. His class is filled with a variety of students including the school’s best basketball player Lamar Allen (Anthony Kelley) and the smartest girl in school, Amy Phillips (Brie Larson).
When his school day ends, Jim drives across the city to an underground casino where he blows thousands of dollars on a nightly basis. Mister Lee (Alvin Ing) runs this casino where Jim is currently in debt at a hefty price of $160,000. In attempt to win back his debt, Jim turns to a shady character named Neville Baraka (Michael Kenneth Williams) to borrow $50,000, which he gives $40,000 to Mister Lee and then gambles away the $10,000 on Blackjack. After winning over $100,000 he decides to bet double or nothing on the craps table which costs him everything. Neville doesn’t like how reckless and careless Jim is so tells him that he must pay back the $50,000 by Monday (seven days away) or he will die.
Jim isn’t overly concerned about the debt to Neville or Mister Lee but decides it may be time to talk to a loan shark named Frank (John Goodman). In exchange for the full amount of money owed, somewhere around $260,000, Frank only wants Jim to admit he is messed up and that he will walk away from the tables when all debts are paid. Jim blows Frank off and refuses to admit such things so he heads back to school. He is confronted by Amy who is a waitress at Mister Lee’s casino and has seen him be up half a million dollars only to blow it all in one night. She tries to understand how he could be a successful writer and teach people how to find their inner strength to be successful yet be a total mess. In one final attempt to settle his debts and walk away, he goes to see his mom Roberta (Jessica Lange) to get his inheritance from his rich but dead grandfather. Instead of heading over to the casino to settle his accounts, he meets Amy and the two drive out to a desert casino where Jim loses every penny once again.
Amy supports Jim in whatever he does but is tired of him going around in circles at the casino. She drops him off in the city where Neville kidnaps him and demands his money or his family and friends will die along with him. Jim decides to meet with Frank one more time to take the money and settle up with Neville, then work out a deal with Lamar to throw his basketball game. When he contacts Mister Lee to arrange for payment at another casino, he calls Frank back to say he has his money too. The three agree to meet and just when everything looks to be over, Jim takes ALL the money and bets it on black for the win.
my thoughts: Over the Christmas holiday I watched five newly released movies in a span of 25 hours, Night at the Museum, Unbroken, The Gambler, Big Eyes, and The Imitation Game, with The Gambler being the worse. I was gonna wait and review this movie after I wrote up the other ones but I felt obligated to review this and let everyone know how bad it was. The trailer for The Gambler looked terrible and I didn’t have high expectations going in even though Mark Wahlberg the leading actor.
The movie did keep me entertained and moved quickly, which was nice, because after two hours I don’t think I could have handled anymore of the win some, borrow some, and lose it storyline. When it was all over I tried to figure out why this movie was made in the first place. Is it to showcase how serious having a gambling problem is? That when you get in deep with the wrong people, it will cost you your life? Or is it that there are really some extremely careless people who love to just let it all ride on a roll of a dice or flip of a card. I already know those people exist and their life is usually a tragic mess and a vicious circle that they can never escape even if they wanted to, because that is all they know.
Mark Wahlberg’s character fits all the characteristics right down to the messy hair, wrinkled clothes, and cocky attitude. Of course Jim Bennett is a very smart and educated guy who once wrote a best-selling book and now teaches at a highly respected school. Most people would be happy with such a life, but Jim lives on the edge, an edge none of us would ever want to find ourselves on. There’s not a whole lot of back story on Jim except his mother is crazy, his dad was never around, and he had a very rich grandfather who recently died. It was hard to get behind his character because we only know him for making really stupid decisions and never once thinking about his future. Then again it’s pretty clear he has no care in the world or what happens to him because on top of losing all kinds of money he decides to date one of his students! Clearly Jim has a lot of personal demons to deal with, and it’s sad to think that it will take two hours out of your life to watch him continue to drown while the sharks close in. He is the ultimate loner with a tube TV at home and nothing to eat besides a bowl of oatmeal every morning. Jim has no friends and no one else to bail him when he gets in trouble. None of these characteristics are one of a hero or a villain which makes it even harder for someone in the audience to care whether he pays everyone back or dies.
There are a handful of other characters that have a major impact on the outcome of the story and the biggest name is John Goodman. He’s a larger than life personality in the locker room and in the gambling world. Frank is so powerful that he has the money and pull to tell anyone where to go and never worry about the consequences. He’ll help Jim out as long as he admits he’s a f**k up. I was seriously disappointed that Goodman was the second big name on the cast roll yet only appears in like 20 minutes of the whole movie. Then there is the lovely Amy Phillips character played by Brie Larson. Despite her potential in life, she decides to begin a relationship with a low life-like Jim Bennett. I got the feeling from the trailer she was going to be Bonnie to his Clyde but she ended up being totally under utilized.
my final thoughts: My advice to anyone who wants to watch a great movie about gambling is to pop in Casino and to stay away from The Gambler. There’s not a whole lot of positive things to praise about this movie except Wahlberg’s wise cracking attitude, but even that is not going to be enough to save a picture whose main character is on merry-go-round ride with hundreds of thousands of dollars. If you happen to go see this, you should be just as upset as I am about misleading the trailer really is.
my star rating: 3 out 10
imdb: 6.4 out 10
rottentomatoes: 48% out 100%
roger ebert: 2 out 4
richard crouse: 3 out 5