The Gambler movie poster

The Gambler

In theaters December 25, 2014

Mark Wahlberg has had an impressive film career thus far which has spanned the last 20 years. Considering the fact that he started out as a recording artist and dabbled in the modeling industry, his theatrical accomplishments are that much more newsworthy. The latest title to his resume is producer. He has become much more involved in the behind the camera aspects in the last several years. It should come as little surprise that in Walhberg’s latest movie, The Gambler, in addition to being the headline actor he is also the producer. Typically his movies do well in the box office but his latest offering could prove to be his biggest gamble yet.

Jim Bennett (Mark Wahlberg) is a university professor that doesn’t really seem have his heart in his work. He labors through classes by just going through the motions. His focus clearly lies elsewhere. That elsewhere happens to be high stakes gambling. It’s fairly evident early on that Jim has a big problem at the card table. Turns out he has a bigger problem in life. Every relationship he has is dysfunctional. That includes his mother (Jessica Lange), one of his students (Brie Larson), a local thug (Michael Kenneth Williams) and an established crime boss (Alvin Ing). Making matters worse he gets mixed up with maybe the most dangerous one of all (John Goodman). It’s almost as if Jim is overcompensating in life by replacing his emotional holes with adrenaline filled/high risk activities.

On paper all of these characters should make a for a spectacular movie with intense interactions throughout. In reality the results do not meet the intended expectations. The main issue is Mark Wahlberg’s portrayal of his character Jim Bennett. For about 95% of The Gambler there are no redeeming factors seen. Due to his actions and behavior throughout most of the film it is very difficult to garner any measurable amounts of sympathy towards his character. The intent to create a believably damaged person may have worked too well in this case. It’s tough to have a film where the audience doesn’t care one way or the other if the lead character gets out of his predicaments.

On a positive note, the acting performances are quite believable across the board. The general plot stays close that of the original 1974 version of The Gambler. Sadly there is no updated version of the Kenny Rogers song that became a huge hit back in the 70’s and is still well known even today. The intensity level is high throughout the movie with lots of twists and turns. Even with all of that it feels a little long even though the runtime is only 111 minutes.

Fans of the original version, Mark Wahlberg and/or gambling in general should enjoy The Gambler to a certain degree no matter what. Having said that, it does not live up to the standard that Wahlberg has set in his previous movies. If another actor played the role of Jim Bennett it might be better received from an audience point of view but fans have come to expect more than what it has to offer and therefore might feel somewhat let down. The Gambler is simply an average movie so don’t expect to be floored one way or another after seeing it.

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Movie Reelist Contributor: Carl Wheeler

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