Lit professor and gambler Jim Bennett's debt causes him to borrow money from his mother and a loan shark. Further complicating his situation is his relationship with one of his students. Will Bennett risk his life for a second chance?
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Jim Bennett is a risk taker. Both an English professor and a high-stakes gambler, Bennett bets it all when he borrows from a gangster and offers his own life as collateral. Always one step ahead, Bennett pits his creditor against the operator of a gambling ring and leaves his dysfunctional relationship with his wealthy mother in his wake. He plays both sides, immersing himself in an illicit, underground world while garnering the attention of Frank, a loan shark with a paternal interest in Bennett's future. As his relationship with a student deepens, Bennett must take the ultimate risk for a second chance... Written by
Mark Wahlberg stated that the role of Jim Bennett was the most challenging role of his career. See more »
Neville instructs Jim to make sure Lamar doesn't beat Michigan by more than 7 points. During the game, the announcers refer to the opponent as cross town rivals. This is impossible as the film is set in California. See more »
You're born as a man with the nerves of a soldier, the apprehension of an angel
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We all remember the classic children's story of "The Little Engine Who Could" about the train that kept telling itself "I think I can, I think I can", and he eventually was able to make it up the hill. "The Gambler" is a lot like "The Little Engine Who Could". It's a movie that obviously set out to be an Oscar contender: it was a remake of a classic film and a classic novel; it starred Mark Wahlberg, one of the best actors in Hollywood these days; it had a terrific supporting cast, including John Goodman and Jessica Lange; and the movie was released in December of 2014, the time that Oscar contenders tend to be released if they want to get the Academy's attention. It's obvious that all who were involved in this film tried really hard.
But, unlike "The Little Engine Who Could", "The Gambler" could not.
I'm writing this review one day after the 2014 Oscar nominations were announced, so I have the benefit of hindsight in making that statement. Still, having seen the movie in the theater just a few days ago, it's obvious that this was a film that wasn't really going anywhere in spite of a good effort.
I should note that I have not seen the 1974 James Caan version of this film, nor have I read the Dosteovsky novel on which it is based, so I can't comment on its faithfulness to its source material. What I can say is that in spite of good efforts on the part of the actors involved, the script for this movie did itself a huge disservice by being a bit too artsy at places. The film is an odd blend of a neo-noir style story with a curious style. It would have been best served to be a straight forward narrative without too much in the way of artistic inventiveness in how the story was being told, but in the end we got too much Coen Brothers directorial influence and not enough "Chinatown".
One might also question the film standard that the movie was captured in, as the movie had a very bright, crisp quality that made it look and feel like a sitcom rather than a gritty, mature themed film about a man who is in serious trouble with loan sharks. It was like reading a copy of "The Godfather" that had been printed in Comic Sans font. That aesthetic vibe caries into the overall tone of the film, as it comes across as almost humorous, despite the attempt at being more serious and deep. The final product is a bit of a mess, with the movie begging to take your attention in too many different ways. It's an attempt at both a gritty novel, a love story, and a witty humor show. It never really gels into any of the above.
In spite of all this, if you go into the movie with a generous attitude, it's certainly not the worst film ever made. It suffers from its setbacks--one scene features Wahlberg running the equivalent of a marathon without breaking a sweat, which was demonstrative of the cumulative problems of the script. And yet, if you approach the film without hopes of it being Oscar worthy but instead of it just simply being a creative two hour diversion, then you may find yourself enjoying the film overall. In spite of my criticisms, I've still rated the movie slightly favorably, giving it 6/10 stars.
Still, it's a pity that this movie tried so hard and has little to show for its effort. I read on the trivia page here that Wahlberg shed 61 pounds for this role and spent a great amount of time researching college literature professors mannerisms. That's a valiant effort on behalf of a great actor. But in the end, it's not enough to get this train up the hills of Hollywood to where it wanted to be.
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