Review: The Gambler (2015)

The Gambler - 2015 - 1

Director: Rupert Wyatt
Screenwriter: William Monahan
Cast: Mark Wahlberg, John Goodman, Brie Larson, Michael K. Williams, Jessica Lange, Anthony Kelley, Alvin Ing & Emory Cohen
Runtime: 111 min // Certificate: 15

If I give you this money and you don’t pay me back, there are no rules. Do you understand the gravity of this situation?” – Frank (John Goodman)

Rupert Wyatt’s The Gambler is a remake of a film I’ve never seen, though its 70s influences are apparent from the get-go. Practically drowning in the self-righteous arrogance that was once portrayed critically in the gangster genre but is now played with an appreciative straight face, it is a film that takes all the clichés of its genre and runs with them without a hint of subversion, humour or irony.

The film follows the World’s least convincing English Literature professor, Jim Bennett (Wahlberg; The Departed), as he attempts to gamble his way out of the huge debts he’s accrued. Over $240,000 in debt to some pretty dangerous people, Bennett’s reckless attitude and hedonistic outlook on life clash with his responsibilities to the people around him as the money men coming knocking, yet still he gambles in the vain hope that he can clamber out of the hole he’s dug for himself. If you think you’ve seen it all before then you have, because The Gambler – wait for it – takes no risks…

The problem here is simple; Mark Wahlberg is just impossible to root for. I admit that I don’t like him, not as an actor nor as a person, so my judgment might be somewhat clouded, but even taking all of that into consideration I still can’t see how anyone can watch this film and feel even a modicum of sympathy for the loathsome character he’s portraying. He’s a rich, self-centred, privileged white man who creates problems for himself and then asks – nay, demands – that other people help him out. He doesn’t care one jot about the other people in his life, nor does he seem to care about himself, and as such I see no reason why the audience should make the effort to care either. To be fair, Wahlberg’s performance in and of itself isn’t that bad, but he seems to completely misunderstand just how awful his character is, playing him straight as a die and still expecting the rest of us to give a single shit about him.

If the film has any merits, they come not from Wahlberg but from the criminally underused supporting cast. Jessica Lange (Big Fish) is great in her admittedly typical “ice-queen” Mother role, while Brie Larson (Short Term 12) does the best she can with a script that insults her talents and turns her character into nothing more than a goal for Bennett to strive towards. The gangsters are as stereotypical as they come (note how the poor, defenceless white man owes money to a Korean and a black man… yeah) and the narrative offers nothing in the way of tension or excitement, though there are a few humorous moments – mainly when Wahlberg is getting beaten up – that help lighten the dour, po-faced mood just a little.

Ultimately though, The Gambler just plain sucks. It’s terribly pedestrian, impossibly stupid and the overall message is really quite reprehensible. We’re basically implored not to worry about how our actions might affect or impact on other people, and though the film occasionally flirts with the idea of responsibility, the final few minutes stamp all over that and leave you wondering what on earth the point of it all was. I mean, I wouldn’t go so far as to say I hate it, because there’s nothing in it that’s worth the effort of hating, but its arrogance and faux-solemnity did absolutely nothing for me.