The Gambler … a movie review by Roz Tarszisz

February 5, 2015 by Roz Tarszisz
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Watching this straightforward drama, I was struck by the madness of gambling addiction.

 Over seven days, we follow Jim (Mark Wahlberg) as he moves from the deathbed of his wealthy grandfather  – who tells Jim he won’t be inheriting anything as this would be “character forming” – to visiting gambling dens and casinos.

Playing blackjack at a Korean casino, he plays big, wins big and loses it all within the space of an evening.  Cool and single-minded, neither winning nor losing cause him to show any emotion –he seems to be unaffected.

When casino operator Mister Lee (Alving Ling) tells him he now owes the house a total $250K, Jim’s solution is to borrow $50K from Neville (Michael Kenneth Williams) and then lose that too.  He is in a deep hole and the people to whom he owes the money are unlikely to let him off the hook.

Jim teaches English Literature at university.  Passionate about language – it’s the one time he shows emotion – he rails at the mental lethargy of most of his students.  He singles out Amy (Brie Larson) as being the only one in a packed lecture hall with the talent to become a writer.  His own published work has not proved to be the great American novel and possibly explains why he seems to have given up on himself.

He scores a meeting with loan shark Frank (John Goodman) in an attempt to borrow enough money to pay off his debts. His mother, Roberta (Jessica Lang) says she is prepared to cut him out of her life, such is her despair at his recklessness.

Scenes of the gambling underbelly of Los Angeles are shot in a muted palette.  The city itself is a character as it was in recent outing, Taken3.  Rather than high rises and freeways, this story concentrates on small, intimate pockets from a subterranean gambling hell to a fancy casino on a prime piece of oceanfront real estate.  The soundtrack is terrific and suits the gritty tone.

Performances are good. Wahlberg is pallid and tired. Goodman is huge and fierce – the shaved head is perfect; he has the film’s best lines.

As the story hurtles towards the 7th day, there is plenty of nail-biting tension. Can the gambler outrun his fate, and more to the point, do we care what happens to him?

3/5  Rated MA    111 minutes  In cinemas February 5

Starring Mark Wahlberg, Michael Kenneth Williams, John Goodman, Alvin Ing

Directed by Rupert Wyatt

Screenplay by William Monahan

 

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