Hollywood has a knack for the remake, and particularly in the last five to ten years, it seems that every second film that’s released has been done before. The Gambler from 2014 starring Mark Wahlberg is another example of a film that fits this billing, based on the original from 1974. Directed by Rupert Wyatt, the film is now notable as the last performance of George Kennedy before he sadly passed away in 2016.
The story follows the journey of a professor down on his luck, in the throes of a serious gambling problem. Jim Bennett, excellently portrayed by Wahlberg, finds himself owing money to all the wrong people. Can he gamble his way out of trouble? The film charts that journey.
Unlike other casino and gambling films, there’s a dark undercurrent to The Gambler. It doesn’t have quite the same cheery attitude as Ocean’s Eleven, nor the same degree of action as in the likes of Casino. But it nevertheless remains an excellent film of the genre, and one of the most honest depictions of the problematic side of gambling on the big screen.
Jim Bennett is obsession with gambling, a literature professor from Los Angeles. He’s in a difficult place in his life as the story begins, deep in the depths of an addiction to gambling. His problems are fuelled by a legacy left by his late grandfather, which leads to even more excessive gambling as he runs into more significant problems. Before long, he winds up owing money to two loan sharks, in excess of $300,000. With just seven days for Bennett to raise the money, or face murder, Bennett is forced to think quickly.
When the loan sharks come calling, Bennett is forced into even more difficult moral choices to protect those closest to him. As he searches frantically for more money to buy himself time from the loan sharks, he is roped into even deeper trouble, including demands that he arrange for students to throw college football games. With threats of violence around every corner, and the insurmountable hurdle of repayment – often made worse by that extra ill-advised wager.
So does Jim make it out alive, with his debts repaid? Is there an escape ahead of him? Only spoilers can reveal. But as far as plot depth and action are concerned, the journey of Wahlberg’s character in The Gambler is certainly an interesting one.
It’s interesting to note that in 2011 when plans for The Gambler were announced, it was rumoured to have found its way to legendary director Martin Scorsese. Apparently, Leonardo diCaprio was attached to the film, and would have played the Mark Wahlberg character in an alternative version. Of course, this never materialised, but it gives an immediate impression into the type of film this is.
While both Scorsese and diCaprio left the project over the coming years, the result is nonetheless compelling viewing. Wahlberg reflects a deeply troubled character, which keeps the film interesting, and the storyline and script give this a general appeal. Those who particularly enjoy gambling or casino films will feel right at home watching The Gambler, but it’s equally something you can watch if you’re just a casual film fan and fancy giving it a shot.
While it’s certainly not a laugh a minute, the film does have entertainment value. It would be easy to recommend The Gambler to a wide audience cross-section as a result, and more people, according to online reviews at least, seem to agree it’s worth a watch.
The Gambler is a decent film, and worthwhile viewing for anyone who enjoys dialogue based films that make you think. There are definitely messages in this film, and it’s not the same light hearted watch you’d expect from your typical casino caper. But it’s not as if this is a totally serious film either, and there are plenty of moments throughout that keep you engaged and entertained from start to finish. Mark Wahlberg performs incredibly well as Bennett, and the supporting cast are also incredible throughout, including John Goodman and George Kennedy.
The film is generally well received by audiences and critics alike, although there seems to be the feeling that this version isn’t quite as tight as the original. That shouldn’t put you off, and in its own right, The Gambler is an enjoyable watch – even if it has a high bar to meet from the original.