Watching this film it struck me that I have been wrong all along about Mark Wahlberg…kind of wrong. I have always asserted that like a ton of other actors he has gone a long way on precious little talent. After spending almost two hours watching The Gambler I think I have to re-evaluate my opinion of him.
A university English professor is living a double life where he spends his days teaching and his nights as a high stakes gambler. Jim Bennett (Mark Wahlberg – Ted, Transformers: Age of Extinction) is a brilliant man who has written an acclaimed novel, but he has a weakness for gambling. Such a big weakness that it has gotten him into plenty of hot water owing over $300,000 to two different very dangerous men. He does not have the money to pay them back and they know that, so this places the people around him like his wealthy mother (Jessica Lange – Tootsie, Cape Fear – 1991) and a couple of his students – basketball player Lamar Allen (Anthony Kelly) and Amy Phillips (Brie Larson – 21 Jump Street, Don Jon). When he gambles away the money his mother gives him and another gangster (John Goodman – The Big Lebowski, Monsters, Inc.) won’t give him any money, time is running out. Jim comes out with a ballsy plan with big risks that can get the money he owes and save everyone’s skin.
Gritty and intense is the overall mood of Rupert Wyatt’s (Rise of the Planet of the Apes, The Escapist) film. Mood and dialogue are the two most important and focused on aspect of The Gambler. Attention paid to those two things result in a film that verges on great. It doesn’t quite make it, but there are moments where it is close. Wyatt makes sure that there is style as well as substance without one suffering due to the other. Grim and tense throughout there is attention played to the style and look of the film. It is a large contributor to its overall quality.
The writing by William Monahan (The Departed, Kingdom of Heaven) is what makes sure this is not an empty attempt to make us interested in a “complex” and self-absorbed loser rather it is about taking risks in life and lengths some people will go to in order to lead a life that means something. It might be a little too existential for some while others will enjoy the reflective journey. I enjoy a film that makes you think a little and investigate beyond the surface of what is happening onscreen.
Brought there by the understated and nuanced performance by Mark Wahlberg. I was surprised. Did not think he had it in him. Thought his limit was dumb action films or silly comedies. Joke was on me. This performance along with decent turns in films like The Fighter and The Departed show that he has talent. The problem is then that he mostly chooses films that don’t showcase his talent. Silly films that will make money rather than ones that communicate some aspect of human experience. Now, I’m not sure whether I have more respect for his talent or am angrier that he cops out with most of his movie choices. He makes us connect with a character that is basically unlikeable. He loses himself in the character’s long monologues; it is no longer big Hollywood star Mark Wahlberg onscreen rather Jim Bennett.
-Mr. Self Destruct: Inside the Gambler
-Dark Before Dawn: The Descent of the Gambler
-Changing the Game: Adaptation
-In the City: Locations
-Dressing the Players: Costume Design