Mark Wahlberg is The Gambler; or more precisely a gambler (but that wouldn’t make such a catchy title). He’s not the anything. He's really just another guy who can’t quit while he’s ahead, finds it impossible to think about the effects that his actions could have on others, and drowns in his own debts as his addiction spirals out of control. Wahlberg plays Jim Bennett who, while not gambling obscene amounts of money away, is a miserable literature professor telling his students to give up if they aren’t geniuses. Bennett is in no way a fun guy to spend nearly two hours with; it is all or nothing for him, hence why he soon gets himself into debt with the proprietor of an underground gambling ring and a dangerous loan shark.
The Gambler is a puke-inducing film with a morally warped message; it is nihilistic and bleak in its depiction of addiction but then pulls off one of the most ludicrously happy endings in film history. Bennett is an utter shit, impossible to root for, or to fully understand what has turned him into this arrogant, addicted mess of a man. He uses his students in the crudest ways, cares nothing for those around him (including his mother who bails him out of his huge debts) and gambles his life away. As if that wasn’t bad enough, Bennett never truly suffers for what he does. Even with all those stereotypically dodgy criminal ethnic minorities around him, Bennett only takes a minor bruising despite all their threats.
The Gambler has some great music on the soundtrack, some attention grabbing editing and most surprisingly of all, manages to remain mostly engaging, even as Bennett continues to make stupendously stupid decisions. John Goodman gets the best role while Wahlberg tries hard to convince as a professor, but succeeds far more at being at being the self-confident but selfish gambler. Apparently this is a remake of a James Caan film from the 70s. Who wants to bet that the original is infinitely better?
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