"I was playing for Mister Lee, and for that gentleman over there. I'm not actually a gambler."
I don't think it'll be a total surprise if I'd say that "The Gambler" is about a gambling addiction. Enough movies were made that shed a light on this issue and eventually you expect while watching such a movie, that feeling will come over you that resembles that of the addict while he's trying to make a profit at the gambling table. That intense feeling in your abdomen when you are about to win a substantial amount of money, the tension, the relief and the gnawing anger when things aren't going as they should. And I didn't have that feeling at all while watching "The Gambler". In the end I looked at it in the same way as Jim Bennett (Mark Wahlberg) : indifferent, without euphoria or disappointment, as if he was observing the game from another player. It seems as if he wasn't playing with his own money. There's no pounding thrill like in "Rounders" where Matt Damon is trying to regain his lost fortune during a poker game. Why the hell did they actually make this film when there's a successful (from what I've read) version from 1974 with James Caan?
Jim Bennett is a university professor, a failed writer and a notorious gambler. But his gambling addiction became a sort of suicide mission. He owes a huge debt to the Korean owner of a well-known gambling house where extremely high bets are allowed, and a crafty African American moneylender. His personal attitude is the cause of him ending up in this situation. For Jim it's all or nothing. A disastrous attitude that causes his debts to grow considerably because the profits he usually makes in gambling are nil. Actually you can say they are non-existent. If there's one thing Jim particularly excels in, than it's losing. Ultimately, it seems like winning on its own is no longer important for him. Fortunately, it's not Russian roulette he plays, otherwise it would be a short film. The fact that he loses constantly, also ensures that this film actually isn't exciting or unpredictable. The rest of the film is filled with a series of dialogues that develop into debates about truth and success, laced with sarcasm and self-pity.
The fact that Wahlberg is the key figure in this quite boring film, isn't exactly an asset. Let's just say that I'm not really an avid fan of Wahlberg. Frankly, I thought he wasn't that bad as actor in his earlier works such as in "The Perfect Storm" and "The Italian Job", but the last four movies I saw him act in, weren't exactly impressive. "Broken City" was a mediocre film crammed with all sorts of banalities. "Pain & Gain" was painfully bad and "2 Guns" was somnolent. How innocent and timid he looks in the earlier films, the more pretentious and snobbish he is in these last three films. Notwithstanding that this perfectly fits the character he plays in "The Gambler", I thought he wasn't suitable for this role. I can't picture Wahlberg as an intellectual who teaches modern poetry and quotes Shakespeare and Robert Greene in a single sentence. I realized after a while that I know as much about Jim, as he knows about himself. Are you expecting an answer to the question why he maintains such a lifestyle ? I'm sure you will be disappointed.
The only thing I enjoyed was the performance of John Goodman as Frank, who is sympathetic but at the same time shouldn't be underestimated. The conversation he has with Jim in the steam room where he shakes rhetorical questions and symbolic equations out of his sleeve, is a superb fragment and a pleasure to watch. In every role Goodman succeeds, no matter how small it is, to lift it to a higher level so it's forever engraved in your memory. I can't think of parts he played that sucked. A true top actor. And then there's Brie Larson and Amy, who according to Jim is a natural talent and can succeed in becoming a reputable writer. Not a distinct role (just like that of Jessica Lange) but the upcoming romance luckily remains superficial.
Eventually I doubted whether Jim was a truly seasoned gambler or he's simply a selfish bastard feeding upon his mothers fortune, which he gambles away without blinking an eye and without even thinking about the consequences. A kind of world-weariness which made sure that it didn't matter to me at the end if the roulette ball landed on red or black. Maybe I would have preferred to see those gangsters ripping him apart in the end. Luckily I didn't bet on that ...
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