It’s hard to tell whether Mark Wahlberg gives a good performance in The Gambler, a remake of the 1974 film of the same name.
He plays Jim Bennett, an English literature professor with a penchant for self-destruction and a serious gambling problem. The main problem being that he’s downright rubbish at gambling. With his life spiralling out of control, Jim decides that borrowing money from various criminals is his only way out. It doesn’t go very well of course, and eventually Jim owes a lot of money to some very scary people. Jim’s answer to this, is to borrow more money and sink further into debt. Thus the circle of gambling life goes on.
There are a lot of problems with The Gambler. It has a very strange tone that sometimes gets very… well, quirky. There are a few scenes that are simply jarring and out of pace with the whole film, not least an absurd appearance from Pulp’s Common People and some pantomime basketball commentary from Michael Kenneth William’s character, Neville Baraka.
When I said Jim Bennett is rubbish at gambling, I meant it. In a sense, he is crying out for someone to grab him by the shoulders and tell him just how bad he is, but no one ever does. Instead they just let him go on with his addiction.
In fact he’s rubbish at a lot of other things too. Conversing, caring for and generally being around, other people being one such problem. This isn’t a big deal for one of his students however, who bizarrely takes a real shine to our nihilistic, walking disaster. Brie Larson plays Amy, the token love interest. How on earth she feels anything for Jim is beyond comprehension, especially after the first time we see Jim at his day job. Because Jim is one of those lecturers. A lecturer who would be thrown out of any university in the real world, for being a shouty, hateful, mess.
A far more interesting relationship is between Jim and his mother. At times it feels that her motherly love is damaging both of them, and this brings an emotional touch that the main storyline doesn’t have. The film glosses over this family affair rather poorly, despite being one of The Gambler’s few bright spots.
Because the film isn’t all bad, and there are some good moments. The gambling scenes are tense, nervous affairs and are the only time Wahlberg’s permanent nonplussed expression serves him well. In a sense, you are watching a man struggling with his desire to win big. As his prize gets further and further away, desperation take hold.
Despite prominent billing, Jon Goodman’s character is limited to only a few scenes, delivering an alarmingly topless performance. A couple of economical rants and in inexplicable urge to help Jim aside, his role is scant in every sense of the word.
The Gambler just isn’t a very good film. It doesn’t pack any punch, and you often find yourself simply not caring what happens to our protagonist. It’s a slog to get through and with an array of great films in the cinema at the moment, this isn’t worth anyone’s time.