The Gambler

Directed By: Rupert Wyatt

Starring: Mark Wahlberg, John Goodman, Brie Larson, Michael K. Williams, and Jessica Lange

Some of you may know this already, but I'm getting ready for abdominal surgery in the next week and a half.  I'll be out of commission for some time and will be handing over the STMR reins to the Sober Film Chick for a while.  One of the many reasons for which I'm having the surgery so early in the year is so that I can make my annual trip to Las Vegas in late February.  It's all about the money, mischief, and massages when I hit the Strip.  I'll definitely be hitting the blackjack and roulette tables as well as the slots.  With this in mind, I have plenty to say on Mark Wahlberg's latest flick The Gambler.

A failed novelist and a bored associate professor of English, Jim Bennett (Wahlberg) hates his life.  He acts out on his sorrows at the blackjack and roulette tables and racks up some serious debts.  In a very short time span, Jim borrows more than $200k from a Korean loan shark.  To try and pay off the debt, he turns to another vicious lender named Neville (Michael K. Williams) and gambles that money away.  Now, he has two loan sharks on his tale and only seven short days to get them their money.  To complicate matters even further, Jim turns to another loan shark named Frank (John Goodman) and even goes back home to his rich mother Roberta (Jessica Lange).  Meanwhile, this professor has a budding relationship with his student Amy (Brie Larson), a talented up-and-coming writer.

It pains me to watch some of the bets made in The Gambler.  As I start to gear up for Vegas, I must note there is never an instance in which I would ever bet every penny in my pocket.  It's just not prudent gambling, especially with a game like roulette.  As painstaking as it is for a cheapskate like me to watch money just fly out the door, I recognize that director Rupert Wyatt (Rise of the Planet of the Apes) is making this part of his study of a very self-destructive, self-loathing character.  For the most part, this works to strong effect.  However, Wyatt uses the setbacks of this addiction to try to give the film a certain self-importance, an effort that frequently falls flat.

The actors deliver decent performances all around in The Gambler.  For his part as Jim Bennett, Mark Wahlberg gives us one tortured genius suffering from a lack of purpose.  He's a man without the will to live, and that's a dangerous thing as Wahlberg demonstrates time and time again throughout the film.  The Gambler also boasts of slew of enjoyable supporting performances.  I never mind watching Jessica Lange berate and slap people relentlessly, and she does so in good form as Jim's mother Roberta.  In a menacing fashion, John Goodman offers up lots of useful advice as loan shark Frank.  Finally, Michael K. Williams gives us one smooth criminal as Neville.  In the role of this hardened gangster, Williams has an undeniable screen presence.

The one thing that I must say about The Gambler is that it teaches some valuable life lessons.  I love the notion of the f*ck you position.  It's a milestone in personal finance to which we all should aspire.  I'd love to be financially comfortable enough to buy a nice place and retire early.  That's the good life ladies and gents.  While The Gambler may not hit any poignant dramatic notes or move too much beyond the mark of a genre flick, it does address some important concepts, and I do appreciate this.  The Gambler gets a strong 0.06% rating.  Have a few glasses of champagne with this one.  Happy holidays!