MOVIE REVIEW | The Gambler (2014)


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

When I watched the original version of The Gambler, I went in knowing that movie gamblers rarely win, which is kind of the thrill.  “Because like gambling itself, even though you know winning is a long shot, it’s still exciting to think that there’s a still a slim chance of making that big score”.  Unfortunately, the risk of seeing a totally unnecessary and redundant remake didn’t add any level of thrill to watching an updated, Mark Wahlbergian take on, The Gambler.

Tens of thousands of dollars in the hole already, Jim Bennet (Wahlberg) makes the mistake of trying to gamble is way out.  Soon he’s hundreds of thousands of dollars in the red and in massive debt to two dangerous loan sharks, Neville (Michal Kenneth Williams) and Frank (John Goodman).  His rich mother (Jessica Lang) comes to the rescue, but why pay off his debt straight away when he can use her cash to gamble and lose even more?

Meanwhile, in his day job as a college English professor, two students find their own way into Jim’s story.  There’s Amy (Brie Larson), whose job as a casino waitress means she has seen Jim at his worst as he lives out his nocturnal life playing cards.  And there’s basketball star Lamar (Anthony Keller), whose prowess on the court gets him dragged down right beside Jim.

I’m not anti-remakes as a rule.  If technology means a special effects heavy blockbuster will look better now than it did decades earlier, go nuts and remake that special effects heavy blockbuster.  If the modern cultural climate puts a new spin on an old story, remake that old story and whack on that modern spin.  But the remakes I am against are the remakes that make no effort to differentiate themselves from the original or in any way justify their existence.  Not only does this neo The Gambler not attempt to freshen up the story in any way, it even tries to ape the 70s vibe of the original.  Complete with Wahlberg’s bizarre haircut.

Everything about The Gambler 2014 is bigger, louder, angrier and more obvious than The Gambler 1974.  Jimmy Caan’s character was a degenerate, but he had enough charming moments that you understood it when people felt compelled to stick by him.  Wahlberg on the other hand is a constantly scowling prick who never once seems like someone you would want to hang around for even a second, let alone risk your own wellbeing to save his.

And I’m not sure if the concept of gambling addiction as a disease was a thing in the 70s, but that movie sold it anyway.  While the characters rarely talked about it specifically, I totally understood Axel Freed’s compulsion and complete inability to stop.  Here, Jim Bennett out and out talks about the same compulsion and inability to stop, and it never seems anywhere near as engrained or real.

After watching the 70s original, I wrote, “When this version of The Gambler already exists, I’m not sure what made someone compelled to remake it with Marky Mark.”  Now that I’ve seen this update, I have to ask, when the 70s version of The Gambler already exists, what would make someone compelled to watch this remake with Marky Mark instead of the original?

The Gambler
Directed By – Rupert Wyatt
Written By – William Monahan

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