All In- ★★★½
There are many things to like about The Gambler, not least the fact the film doesn’t explain the rules of Pontoon (Blackjack/21). Novices should take a glance at the rules as some of the tension may be lost. We learn that Jim Bennett (Wahlberg) owes over two hundred thousand dollars to a Korean gambling outfit and has one week to get the money or he will cease not to be.
Bennett spends the film borrowing from anyone who’ll listen, all in an elaborate scheme that he hopes will come good in the final act. The death of his grandfather – the 17th wealthiest man in California – is the catalyst for this downward spiral and nihilistic examination of his life in an attempt to reach rock bottom. He comes from money, old money, it would appear but has been left none as his grandfather thinks having the world at your feet is far too scary.
The dealings with his mother are expertly played out with Jessica Lange who has creeped back into our conscious through the “American Horror Story” franchise. She exudes waspish entitlement and her displeasure at the failings of her son are all too evident. Many familiar faces are on show from the small screen with stalwarts from the likes of “The Wire”, “The West Wing” and “Brooklyn Nine-Nine” all walking the boards once more.
There isn’t much new ground in The Gambler, if anything it’s a story we know all too well. The real novelty is there is no con. The film is about gambling plain and simple and not in a Leaving Las Vegas examination of real addiction way but more so the adrenaline of chance. The throwing caution to the wind and proclaiming fuck it. Anyone who has every placed a bet can relate to that sense of anticipation, the rush, the feeling that this could be your time.
Pessimistic, gruff Wahlberg is great to watch and much more enjoyable than pumped up action Wahlberg. He comes across as an American Bernard Black with better teeth. There are many moral musings and orations which will ultimately make or break the film for a viewer but if you can get past the fact that Wahlberg is an associate English professor then you’ll do just fine.
The Gambler opens nationwide Friday the 23rd of January