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By Daniel Lammin
24th May 2015

In the never-ending succession of remakes and reboots, classic films like the James Caan 1974 drama ‘The Gambler’ aren’t at all immune. In development for a number of years and originally slated for Martin Scorsese, the remake finally made it to the screen this year with Mark Wahlberg in the title role and Rupert Wyatt (‘Rise of the Planet of the Apes’) in the director's chair. From the offset, I have to admit I was unfamiliar with the original film, so if you’re looking for a comparison I’m afraid you have the wrong man. However, separated from comparison, does this new version justify its existence by working on its own terms?

Jim Bennett (Wahlberg) is a literature professor with a crippling secret – a dangerous addiction to gambling that is costing him and everyone around him hundreds of thousands of dollars, including his fed-up and emotionally exhausted mother Roberta (Jessica Lange). Rather than being intoxicated by the promise of winning though, Jim is driven by a terrible need for self-destruction, flirting with debts with dangerous men he is unable to pay. It all comes to a head though when his actions threaten two of his students, gifted basketballer Lamar (Anthony Kelley) and intoxicatingly clever Amy (Brie Larson), and Jim is forced to face his problem head-on where he would usually have rolled over and taken the punishment.


While the basic premise behind ‘The Gambler’ seems a bit tired, it’s helped by three exciting creative forces. William Monahan does a great job with the screenplay, and even though rhythmically it tends to drag, the dialogue itself cracks with a fresh wit and intelligence you don’t see coming. This particularly helps bolster Mark Wahlberg, who gives one of his finest performances in a while, clearly relishing sinking his teeth into meatier dialogue and more complex situations than he’s had from Michael Bay of late. Wahlberg is one of those actors that can spend years wading through lacklustre films before turning in a great performance that reminds you of his talent, and this is certainly one of them. Hearing him monologue about lit theory is almost as exhilarating as watching his physical and mental breakdown because of how unusual it is. The real star of the film is Rupert Wyatt though, who continues to prove himself an exciting director. ‘The Gambler’ is an incredibly handsome film, beautifully shot and bravely edited with a kick-ass soundtrack, and where others would have gone for more simple visual solutions, Wyatt allows the images to tell the story in often brave ways. Even though ‘The Gambler’ isn’t a totally satisfying film, it’s certainly an intriguing one. As well as Wahlberg, there are also great performances from Jessica Lange (finally free from Ryan Murphy’s clutches and allowed to do more than yell and stumble down hallways) and Brie Larson, who should be a bigger star than she is.

‘The Gambler’ is an incredibly handsome film, beautifully shot and bravely edited with a kick-ass soundtrack.

‘The Gambler’ isn’t one of those films that sticks in the mind, but it certainly makes an impression while you watch it. Jim Bennett is a man in a state of slow-motion implosion, shockingly self-destructive to the point of almost being charismatic. I can’t speak for the film as a remake, but as a film on its own terms, the positives outweigh the negatives in this case, particularly as an example of clear and exciting directing from Rupert Wyatt. Definitely worth checking out.

Paramount have given ‘The Gambler’ an excellent transfer befitting this visually handsome film. The 1080p 2.40:1 transfer has a cold, steely look with excellent detail, though the image occasionally suffers from a fuzzy quality probably due to the digital photography. The DTS-HD MA 5.1 track is an even stronger effort, taking advantage of the excellent sound design, though the balance occasionally favours the sound design over the dialogue, which becomes an issue with the meatier sections of Monahan’s screenplay.

Paramount have also done a sterling job with a collection of well-made features, discussing all aspects of the film. ‘Mr. Self Destruct: Inside The Gambler’ (14:12) gives a general overview of the making-of process and the development of the project, while ‘Dark Before Dawn: The Descent of The Gambler’ (16:26) and ‘Changing The Game: Adaptation’ (9:02) take closer looks at the psychology behind the development of Jim Bennett and the changes that occurred through the adaptation process. Wahlberg, Wyatt and Monahan are all on hand to discuss their decisions and the process in a refreshingly candid manner. There’s also a detailed and fascinating look at the locations (9:27) and the costume design (7:49), and around twenty minutes of deleted scenes that, while unnecessary, offer further insight into the psychology of the film. Overall, a refreshingly thorough collection of special features.

RELEASE DATE: 27/05/2015
RUN TIME: 1h 51m
CAST: Mark Wahlberg
John Goodman
Jessica Lange
Brie Larson
Michael Kenneth Williams
Alvin Ing
DIRECTOR: Rupert Wyatt
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