When a film is highly anticipated it goes one of two ways: either it lives up to the heady expectations or it unceremoniously flops. Unfortunately, for Rupert Wyatt’s remake of the 1974 classic that featured the iconic Steve McQueen, Wyatt’s contemporary take on the failings of English professor Jim Bennett doesn’t quite pack the punch of the original.
Even so, lead actor Mark Wahlberg doesn’t go down without a fight in the 2014 movie The Gambler. His performance tries to put a Band-Aid on a production chockfull with sizeable cracks. But although Wahlberg does his upmost to make the lead character shine, its not a patch on the sterling efforts of the revered James Caan who played Bennett in the James Toback original.
The film revolves around the rather flawed Jim Bennett, who is the rich kid turned laid back English professor who’s vices are starting to get him into trouble. After being bailed out by his stern Mom on more than one occasion, Bennett begins to push boundaries even the most placid would become annoyed by.
After struggling to balance a professional career and a full-on gambling habit, Bennett’s life starts to unravel in front of his own eyes. Scrambling to put the pieces back together without his Mom’s help for once, Bennett resorts to some drastic measures. As he gets a helping hand from a loan shark (John Goodman), Bennett sees this as an opportunity to venture back into the murky world of underground casinos.
As the film sees Bennett play and lose at some of America’s most popular games like Omaha and Texas Hold’em, Bennett proves he’s more adept at losing than winning. But will it be his downfall? Will the loan sharks give Bennett another chance to recoup his money and pay them off before they relieve him of the opportunity to walk again? Or will his wealthy Mom decide to bail him out again? You’ll have to watch the film to find those answers out.
Regardless of whether The Gambler doesn’t stand up to the hype or its original, it does boast a stellar cast which includes the aforementioned John Goodman as Frank the loan shark. Jessica Lange plays Bennett’s Mom, Brie Larson plays Bennett’s student and love interest Amy Phillips, and Griffin Cleveland plays a young Bennett.
Ultimately, it was always going to be hard for Wyatt’s remake to standup to the original but if we can take anything from this movie, it’s that regardless of the polarizing views of Wahlberg’s acting – the guy can act. Bombarded with, sometimes unjust criticism, Wahlberg manages to portray the deep anxiety of Bennett’s character as well as anyone could have ever thought – and for that alone, it’s worth watching.
Rotten Tomatoes rating: 46%