I can always use a good gambling movie. Unfortunately, this isn’t a gambling movie. The title may throw you off, but Mark Wahlberg’s character, Jim, even says so himself; “I’m not a gambler.” As disappointing as that is, I have to look past it. I have to take this movie for what it is–a story about a cynical realist who has a gloomy outlook on humanity and is struggling to rediscover his purpose. But he’s not actively looking for a reason to live, until a couple of them fall into his lap. He didn’t think he wanted a reason, but realized that sometimes you don’t have a choice. You can try to control every aspect of life, but you have no control over your heart.
And while the messages of The Gambler may be well intended, the execution is a different story. The dialogue, although smart and often funny, just sounds like every character is speaking directly from the writer’s mouth so that all of them are having the same supercilious conversation with themselves. Each character seems like an arrogant, vulgar Woody Allen.
Under the direction of Rupert Wyatt, the drama and suspense work outside of the actual gambling itself is impressive. But together with the DP, Wyatt seems to not understand the world of blackjack or basketball enough as a spectator. I typically become resilient when watching basketball movies because I understand the game too much that the slightest error annoys me. It’s laughable, but I let it slide a little here. But the movie is about gambling–blackjack to be specific–and the filmmakers continue to show us 1st person perspective while NOT giving us enough glimpses of the dealer’s hands. How can we adequately feel the suspense if we can’t see what Jim is seeing–or the rest of the table for that matter?
What works is Wahlberg’s interpretation of Jim. You can see in his eyes that he understands him, and that he and Jim are one in the same. You’re convinced.
The rest of the cast is great as well. Brie Larson, who always delivers her lines with such fluidity, and John Goodman, who is as intimidating as ever, are joys to watch on screen.
But regardless of how entertained you are, you might be disappointed, like me, that The Gambler isn’t really about gambling at all.
I heard the 1974 original is better anyway.