The Gambler is a bet that lost.
The danger laced, high-risk world of gambling and gang activity is a popular theme showcased by Hollywood blockbusters, producing memorable characters and timeless themes that captivate audiences. However, with Rupert Wyatt’s The Gambler, a remake of the James Cann film of the same name, this glorified world is surrendered to mediocrity in a film with strong acting, but an average screenplay and a slow, underdeveloped plot. In this film, a college literature professor and gambling addict, Jim Bennett (Mark Wahlberg), attempts to pay back debts to dangerous people by borrowing money from his mother and a loan shark. Amidst this already complicated situation, Bennett also has a relationship with one of his students.
Without any cogent backstory or humor, Jim Bennett’s thoughtless moroseness and disregard for his own existence, leads audiences to dislike him and ultimately, lose interest. The only redeeming quality of Bennett is Mark Wahlberg’s acting, portraying his character’s cynicism brilliantly. Wahlberg is surrounded by other actors who match his level of conviction, communicating their lines with notable expertise. Specifically, Goodman portrays his ruthless character well, with colorful, philosophical monologues, stealing the show from Wahlberg in his few scenes.
While the acting is remarkable, especially the counterpart between Wahlberg and Goodman, the most fundamental problem with this film is that it merely scratches the surface of the plot, not divulging deeply into the storyline or the characters. The aim for this film can be classified as a typical “person who lives for nothing learns to care about something” movie, a theme commonly overused as a plot line.
By writing in several different characters and multiple, unnecessary subplots, screenwriter William Monahan does not provide enough development to reach a level where the audience cares about the characters. With an already unlikeable main character and a cast that does not feed the viewers desire to find someone sympathize with, the audience is left with no relatable elements in a tiring plot that drags throughout the film. Even the attempt at the love story is organized haphazardly, and at that point, all that remains is an assemblage of interesting components struggling to work together but failing to do so.
Amidst the unnecessarily long monologues and disorganized subplots, the viewer must tirelessly spend time waiting for some storyline to emerge. Instead of informing the audience of the characters backstories or showing any personal transformation, the script is simply overly wordy and nonsensical. These lengthy monologues divert from the focus of the film and hinder any insights into the character’s personality or a deeper plot. The elements of suspense and emotion are absent in this film as we repeatedly watch an endless cycle of Jim Bennett gambling away all of his money. The dangerous loan sharks in this movie are not represented as intimidating, because no anticipation is created as Bennett encounters them. Without a threshold built up to the final scene, the concluding moment meant to be the climax of the story passes by in a blink of an eye and without anticipation, because it contains no distinguishing element from the scenes before it. Lacking any suspense or plot twists, the film is predicable, repetitive, and purposeless.
On a different note, the cinematography by Greg Fraser is executed with the elegance that the screenplay lacks. The visuals in the movie form genius combinations with the songs from the soundtrack as unique transitions between scenes. Incorporating a mood that is highly stylized, the cinematography reflects a conscious decision to portray the glamour and attraction of gambling. As the audience is reminded how many days remain and a mood-fitting track plays, it gives the film a sense of normality and consistency, which in turn reflects the philosophy of Jim Bennett who feels that nothing is extraordinary. Nevertheless, the exquisite cinematography in this film seems out of place and can be perceived by some as a desperate attempt to be artsy.
Overall, The Gambler, as a whole, possesses great performances from the experienced cast, noteworthy visuals, and a remarkable soundtrack. However, this comes at the cost of having an unbalanced storyline and underdeveloped characters. Ultimately, the film attempts to be too many things at once—romantic, artsy, comedic, thrilling, and dramatic—but in the end cannot succeed at being something.