Axel Freed is a literature professor. He has the gambling vice. When he has lost all 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 a gambling junkie who wins big but loses it all at the same time. He borrowed from his girlfriend, his wealthy mother, and last but not least a Loan Shark from the Mob. It just gets worse for him because he loses all his cash each time and acts like it doesn't matter. 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
Robert Evans was keen to produce the film as his first credited production at Paramount, but Irwin Winkler, according to writer James Toback, wouldn't bow out despite attempts by the studio to give him other projects. Evans went on to make Chinatown (1974) instead. See more »
They don't give out no prizes at the half-time Axel.
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From the first scene to the last I was on the edge of my seat. Bet after bet my stomach turned. Caan's Axel Freed is driven to hit the big one, but it never seems to come or be enough. He loves the thrill of losing and feels safe when he is at the bottom.
Watching Freed bet tens of thousands of dollars on whims is excruciating. This film is one huge car wreck that you can't turn away from. With each scene the damage gets worse and worse.
"If all my bets were safe they just wouldn't have any juice," he tells his bookie.
Axel is never happy--even when he is doing the thing he enjoys most. You can see the underlying dissatisfaction he has with his job, his life, and the universe in general. The only constant in his existence is the bet. Win or lose.
Freed is very adept at evading the lowlifes he owes his shirt to. It is a joyride for him to constantly "dodge the bullet". That is why each bet becomes riskier and riskier. He wants to see what will happen to him when all of his luck runs out.
At one point in the film Axel reads a passage from an essay on George Washington to his class. He and his students conclude that Washington was afraid of failure and that he tried to remove the element of risk from everything he did. It is the very antithesis of Axel's life as a gambler. He creates situations that are totally immersed in risk believing that it is the only way to ensure true success. All or nothing. He is willing to compromise not only himself, but anyone around him who cares about him. By displaying his dark, self-destructive side he gambles with their feelings and challenges them to either love him or leave him.
It was a special treat to see two actors (Cann and Sorvino) who are in two of the best crime movies ever made (The Godfather and Goodfellas) together in the same film.
Also Antonio Vargas is appropriately slimy as the Pimp (sort of an R-rated Huggy Bear).
There are some pivotal moments in the film like when Axel is told that he must get one of his basketball-playing students to fix a game; or when he confronts his millionaire grandfather after learning that he refused to cover his debt.
I won't give away the ending, but the payoff is not what you would expect in American cinema.
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