By Nico Beland
Movie Review: C+ (2 ½ stars)
Marky- Mark himself, Mark Wahlberg (The Fighter, Ted, Transformers: Age of Extinction) and John Goodman (The Big Lebowski, Monsters, Inc., Flight) join forces with director, Rupert Wyatt (The Escapist, Rise of the Planet of the Apes) in his third film as a director, The Gambler, remake of the 1974 James Caan classic of the same name.
For a remake, it’s a decent attempt, the film is well acted and put together, and the intense drama is gripping. Unfortunately it lacks the Golden Globe nominated James Caan performance as a gambler who steals from his mother to pay gambling debts, and manages to be a likable character.
Wahlberg’s performance is pretty solid as well, he managed to take James Caan’s character and made it his own, and for the most part I think he pulled it off. In some of his previous films, he looks like the type of man who would have a gambling addiction, especially in Michael Bay’s Pain & Gain from last year (2013).
The film focuses on English professor, Jim Bennett (Wahlberg) who has a serious gambling problem. He bets lots of money he stole from his mother (Academy Award® Winner, Jessica Lange-Tootsie, Blue Sky, Big Fish) in poker tournaments that backfires colossally when he realizes he’s in debt to gangsters who he borrowed money from, and a fat shirtless thug named Frank (Goodman).
While that’s going on, Jim is developing a bond with one of his students, Amy Phillips (Brie Larson-21 Jump Street, Short Circuit 12) who’s at the top of his class, because he’s teaching a bunch of students who honestly have no interest in what he’s teaching them. He also helps an African-American slacker in his class, Lamar Allen (Anthony Kelley) become a basketball player on the school’s team, the Wildcats (No, not that kind of Wildcats!).
Jim’s life keeps getting worse when the head gangster (Michael K. Williams-12 Years a Slave, The Purge: Anarchy, Inherent Vice) threatens to kill Amy if he doesn’t give him the money he owes. So we can all hope, he makes the right decision and turns his life around for the best.
Overall, The Gambler is a pretty entertaining crime drama; there are enough intense and gritty moments, solid acting, and decent writing to satisfy. And of course Mark Wahlberg’s performance as Jim Bennett is very convincing, seeing how he was once a rapper before becoming an actor and I wouldn’t be surprised if he did any gambling during his time as a rapper.
However the one who really steals the show is John Goodman as the fat thug, Frank. His performance is very similar to his roles from The Big Lebowski, Argo, Flight, and The Hangover Part III; he’s big, mean, but also pretty funny, not to mention he taught me about the “Fuck You Positions”.
Even though I enjoyed Wahlberg and Goodman’s performances, they don’t top James Caan’s performance from the original movie. He really looked like the Gambling type in that movie, not to mention he was also casted in The Godfather, if that’s not an accomplishment I don’t know what is.
But I’m just nitpicking here, take the remake for what it is, if you liked the original Gambler or other gambling classics like Casino, chances are you’ll find something to enjoy about this modernized re-imagining, but if you want something more powerful and smarter, I’d say watch the original or Casino.