‘The Gambler’ Movie Review – A Clumsy Contradiction
Nothing in Hollywood is truly off-limits and this is again perpetuated by the fact that we’re getting an updated version of The Gambler 44 years after its initial release. Rupert Wyatt (and company) try their hardest to make the new version different but they still fail in probably the most essential part – the main character.
At its core, The Gambler is about a man named Jim (Mark Wahlberg) that gets into trouble with the wrong people because of a debilitating gambling addiction. Or at least that’s what the original version of The Gambler is about. The updated version doesn’t really blame Jim’s poor circumstances on an addiction but he’s in trouble nonetheless.
It’s not unusual for a movie to follow a loathsome character but it doesn’t feel like The Gambler is trying this. In fact, they seem to want the audience to side with him.
This certainly isn’t the first time we’ve gotten a narrative that involved a man getting a little in-over-his-head but The Gambler practically promises a different story and I personally bought into the movie from the beginning.
Before the luster wears off, it’s easy to get caught up in the fast-paced, witty dialogue to a point somewhere between entertainment and fascination. The script could’ve easily be crafted by the divisive Aaron Sorkin (but is instead crafted by William Monahan who won an Academy Award for his script of The Departed). The hyperactive script, like always, does eventually wear down.
As it turns out, this becomes a microcosm for the film as a whole.
Even more problematic than the script is the logical wear that really hinders the film’s ability to connect with the audience. Like I mentioned earlier, we’ve seen plenty of movies with similar plots. By focusing on one flawed character, it’s paramount that the audiences connects with that character. They don’t have to necessarily love him or her, but they’ve got to have some sort of connection.
There’s not a lot of hope outside the fact that an A-lister is playing said flawed character. If you aren’t a Wahlberg fan, it becomes harder and harder to root for this guy, especially when he’s making downright awful decisions.
This is compounded by the contradictory nature of Jim’s character because he’s a highly-intelligent – if not slightly pretentious – literature professor and accomplished author. So, to recap: we’re supposed to believe that an intelligent college professor will make illogical decisions about gambling but he doesn’t have an addiction?
An important question still looms: can you appreciate the film without liking Jim? I find it hard to answer yes when the title of the film is literally talking about him.
So we knock The Gambler down a peg – that’s a fair criticism I’d hope – then it becomes about the entertainment value. I will have to admit the movie is wholly entertaining, and yes, most of this has to do with Monahan’s fast-paced script.
The movie is even peppered with some extremely effective moments, some which tend to be too-little-too-late. There’s one particular moment – a conversation between Jim and Frank (John Goodman) – that could’ve been the entire premise to a (much better) movie.
People use the movies to escape reality. While I understand this, I also tend to believe reality needs to at least be part of the film’s conversation, especially if we’re talking about dramas. The best dramas are the ones where we can assert ourselves into the context of the film, even if it’s only for two hours. In the case of Rupert Wyatt’s The Gambler, we’re inserted into a story with an ironically unintelligent gambler with only a few redeemable qualities. If you can get past this, the film doesn’t turn out to be half bad.
That’s still a tall order.
The Gambler released in theaters yesterday. Sound off below with your thoughts.
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