Review / ‘The Gambler’ (MA) ***

gambler1IN 1974, James Toback wrote and directed his debut film about a writer with a gambling addiction and the heavies pursuing him to recover his debts.

Rupert Wyatt’s remake of it credits Toback with collaboration in William Monahan’s screenplay.

Mark Wahlberg plays university English lecturer Jim, doing his best to challenge his students, on the brink of a somewhat heretical relationship with student Amy (Brie Larson). More importantly, he’s addicted to gambling.

The principal tenet of gambling is that the house always wins. John Goodman and Alvin Ing play bosses to whom Jim owes large debts. Jim’s mother (Jessica Lange) will bail him out just once more but never again. We know what Jim will do with that money, don’t we?

People can conquer addictions if they really want to. A dear friend, a well-loved academic and cinema enthusiast, conquered a gambling addiction at some cost to his emotional comfort. But the film lacks sparkle, makes little contact with audience expectations and provides little explanation for Jim’s actions. Creditors’ threats of violence or worse don’t ring true. Jim’s search for funds includes bribing a player to influence the outcome of the game.

Wyatt’s film tries to say something convincing about searching the self for redemption from weakness. That’s unfortunate because the word for it turns out to be “turgid”. And I’m blowed if I know how Wyatt could have made it less so.

At Palace Electric, Hoyts and Limelight

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