Axel Freed is a literature professor. He has the gambling vice. When he has lost all of his money, he borrows from his girlfriend, then his mother, and finally some bad guys that chase him. Despite all of this, he cannot stop gambling.
Axel Freed, a college professor and very successful at his job, is addicted to gambling, who wins big, but loses it all just as fast. He borrowed from his girlfriend, his wealthy mother, and last but not least a loan shark. It just gets worse for him because he can't stop. But when his girlfriend decides to leave him, his mom decides to disown him, and the mob wants to kill him, Axel decides to make a big score to win big and pay off everyone to stay alive and keep his dignity and come out ahead. Written by
According to James Toback, before his screenplay was accepted at Paramount Pictures, and was making the rounds with actors, Peter Boyle was first interested in playing the lead. Robert De Niro lobbied hard for the role, to the point where De Niro started to dress like the writer. Toback pressured Director Karel Reisz to meet with De Niro. After meeting him, Reisz said that he would not, and could not consider De Niro for the role, and if Toback kept insisting, he would not be allowed to collaborate on the film further. See more »
[following the big college basketball game, in which Spencer Lewis has shaved points for the Mafia to pay off Axel's gambling debt]
... Okay, we're in the clear. In fact, you might just have a couple of favors coming your way.
How's that? What do you mean?
What are you, naive? This Lewis kid's got maybe a year or two left before he makes the NBA. You think my friends are gonna let him just slip through their fingers, after a night like this?
He did it for ME. He won't do it again.
Ah, quit lying...
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Sometimes he wins; but mostly he loses. Gambling is an addiction for Axel Freed (James Caan), a professor of English literature and lover of classical music. The film is set in New York City.
The object of the obsession can be almost anything on which a bet is placed: dice, cards, a basketball game, a college football match. It really doesn't matter. Axel just can't keep from making bets. He's like two different people. In a classroom setting, he is logical and intelligent. But when betting, he throws away the logic in favor of risk taking. In these situations he seems to lack the normal psychological "brakes" that could be applied to his destructive over-betting. In his own words: "I like the threat of losing". And always in the background are the thugs and the con men that lord over Axel, when he borrows to gamble, but can't pay his debt.
Some of Axel's classroom lectures have real thematic value. The ideas relate both to him, and incidentally to some modern-day politicians. For example, a person "... claims an idea is true because he wants it to be true, because he says it's true. And the issue isn't whether he's right, but whether he has the will to believe he's right, no matter how many proofs there are that say he's wrong". Axel continues: "D.H. Lawrence says Americans fear new experience more than they fear anything. They are the world's greatest dodgers, because they dodge their own very selves". Heavy stuff.
Despite a disappointing ending, "The Gambler" is an interesting character study of a personality type that is all too prevalent in modern society. The film's color cinematography is generally dark, in keeping with the film's theme. Overall acting is fine. Paul Sorvino gives an especially convincing performance, as does James Caan. The plot proceeds rather slowly.
Mostly, the film has terrific thematic value. It encourages the viewer to pause and reflect, to ponder, to question one's own motivations. That is a trait lacking in many current movies.
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