Reviewed by: David Simpson
professor having an affair with his student
gambling in the Bible
Should Christians be involved with lotteries or other forms of gambling? Answer
extorting money from your own mother
convincing others to sin for your benefit
|Featuring:||Jessica Lange … Roberta
Mark Wahlberg … Jim Bennett
Brie Larson … Amy Phillips
Sonya Walger … Angelina
John Goodman … Frank
Michael Kenneth Williams … Neville (as Michael K. Williams)
Caitlin O'Connor … Poker Masseuse
Leland Orser … Larry Jones
Cassandra Starr … Bridgette
George Kennedy … Ed
|Director:||Rupert Wyatt—“Rise of the Planet of the Apes” (2011), “The Escapist” (2008)|
Jim Bennett (Mark Wahlberg) is a compulsive gambler. Despite a good job as a university English literature professor and a rich, widowed mother who makes sure he wants for nothing, Bennett continues to get himself further and further into gambling hell. After he manages to blow $80,000 on one bet, he borrows $50,000 from a loan shark to try win back what he lost. He fails, and now owes a Korean gambling boss and the loan shark huge sums of money.
Bennett just doesn’t know when to stop, and he continues to go way over his head in trying to recoup money to pay off his debts. When his mother (Jessica Lange) bails him out, by giving him $240,000, he takes it to the gambling hall and loses it all in a single night out with one of his students. With his life, and the lives of those he knows, being threatened, he must take one huge final gamble to pay off all he owes.
First off, the language is strong. Expect over 100 f-words, although it seems more throughout the two hours. Despite this, John Goodman’s “f**k you money” monologue was one of the best I’ve ever heard. The violence is quite tame. Bennett gets beaten up a couple of times, and there are some strong threats directed towards him and his family/friends. Sex/nudity is at a minimum. One scene takes place in a strip club where brief female topless nudity is seen, and there is a further scene where sex is implied.
This a film that packs many punches about gambling and the affect it has. It’s not glamorized in any way, and the pain it causes to the people in Bennett’s life is evident. The gambling alienates him from them, and even from himself, as it infiltrates every facet of his being. He simply doesn’t care about life anymore.
Wahlberg plays a macabre “devil-may-care” loser quite well, but you must be warned that his lethargy and his lack of care is a very strong character trait. He’s given up, and just feeds his addiction. This is evident when you see him teach. “You see me pretending to teach, I see you pretending to learn,” he tells one class very directly. This lack of passion for life is the complete opposite of what God desires for us. He gave us life, and life in abundance, so that we can live freely, exploring our passions and creativity. Jim Bennett has lost that, and perhaps, never had it in the first place.
What is key to recognize here, though, is that unlike many Hollywood flicks that focus on the addictions and personal hell of characters, this movie does end on a positive note. I can’t give any more details away, but it surprised me. There is freedom found in the end. That filled me with more joy than at any other point in the film—except for perhaps when John Goodman was on screen.
As far as movie quality goes, the director did a decent job. This movie was plain and straightforward. There were no roving cameras, no lens flares, and no insane lighting. This was simple story-telling, but, honestly, far too simple. What was frustrating about the film is that the story could have been written on a single page of A4. There’s very little to it. If I tell you to write me a gambling-based story, this is what you would have written nine times out of ten. So how does it last for two whole hours?? I’m not sure, but it does. There’s a lot of dialog to wade through, that tells you what you already know, and there’s even more dialog about existentialism, the future, and English literature that really just fills time aimlessly. There’s nothing that ultimately ties it into the story beyond the fact that you learn Bennett hates his job. So is there a point to it all? No. How disappointing.
Wahlberg gave 100% to this role. He lost 61 pounds to play Jim Bennett. He studied college professors to play a convincing teacher. However, he’s not an Oscar winner, and probably never will be. I’d like to believe one day I’ll be able to eat my words, but I doubt it. There’s just always something missing. If you’re a fan of Wahlberg, “Shooter” and “Four Brothers” are you go-tos. This, sadly, is not. Definitely not one to rush out and see.
Violence: Moderate to heavy / Profanity: Extreme—“Jesus Christ” (1), “Jesus” (1), “G**-damn” (2), “hell” (2), 110 f-words, various vulgar terms for anatomy, s-words (20+), a** (8), SOB (1) / Sex/Nudity: Moderate to heavy
See list of Relevant Issues—questions-and-answers.
…Low on action and tension, long on grand speeches. Wahlberg gets an “A” for effort… [2/4]
—Rafer Guzmán, Long Island Newsday
…An unnecessary remake… Slick but slight… [2/4]
—Liam Lacey, The Globe and Mail
…Mark Wahlberg gives a dynamite display of self-hatred… isn’t a typical thriller but offers surefire cinematic—if not moral—virtue…
—Jordan Hoffman, The Guardian
…moderately entertaining but frankly unnecessary remake…
—Calvin Wilson, St. Louis Post-Dispatch
…Wahlberg brings an intense, often internalized performance to a wickedly written role, and while he’s no James Caan, he’s certainly able to infuse this mesmerizing character study with enough rancid brio to make this self-flagellating hustler believably doomstruck. To Bennett, life itself is a losing proposition. [3/5]
—Marc Savlov, The Austin Chronicle
…redefines the phrase “spectacular miscasting,” but this remake of the 1974 James Caan film written by James Toback still crackles with mordant cynicism. …
—Kyle Smith, New York Post
…ultimately the film brings to mind Camus/Mersault’s famous observation about the “benign indifference of the universe.” [2½/4]
—Peter Howell, Toronto Star Newspapers
“Gambler” fails to get the blood rushing… the thrill is replaced by dread… [2½/4]
—Barbara Vancheri, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette