Monday, May 18, 2015

The Gambler

***DISCLAIMER*** The following review is entirely my opinion. If you comment (which I encourage you to do) be respectful. If you don't agree with my opinion (or other commenters), that's fine. To each their own. These reviews are not meant to be statements of facts or endorsements, I am just sharing my opinions and my perspective when watching the film and is not meant to reflect how these films should be viewed. Finally, the reviews are given on a scale of 0-5. 0, of course, being unwatchable. 1, being terrible. 2, being not great. 3, being okay. 4, being great and 5, being epic! And if you enjoy these reviews feel free to share them and follow the blog or follow me on Twitter (@RevRonster) for links to my reviews and the occasional live-Tweet session of the movie I'm watching! This movie might not have been as interesting if the gambling addiction was dollar scratch offs.

The Gambler – 3 out of 5

So, the story of "The Gambler" centers around the summer time on a train that has no real destination. A young man has a conversation with a professional gambler in exchange for an alcoholic beverage and he explains that, when gambling—and in real life, as well, because it’s a perfect metaphor—you need to know when it is beneficial to stay the course and hold your hand—or hold ‘em—and when it makes more sense to call it quits or, as they say it, fold ‘em. The movie then—wait, this isn’t the story of The Gambler. I’m just giving the story behind the Kenny Rogers song of the same name. The Gambler I’m supposed to be talking about is a remake of the 1974 film with James Caan of the same name.

Do you like this?  He's crying because you didn't say hello to your mother for him!

Okay, let’s get to the real synopsis…

Calm down, Brie Larson.  The synopsis is coming.  I can see that you are boiling with

Jim Bennett (Mark Wahlberg) is a college professor with a problem. His issue is that he really, REALLY likes to gamble and it ends up putting him into debt with a man who runs an underground gambling ring and a particularly violent man played by Omar from The Wire (Michael K. Williams). His problem gets worse when he starts to diddle one of his students (Brie Larson). When the life of his student is threatened by the particularly violent man, Bennett decides he needs to do what he can to pay off his debts like a Lannister and turns to his mother (Jessica Lange) and a loan shark who seems hell bent on Bennett admitting to his flaws (played by John Goodman). Can Bennett get his shit together and pay off the loans and put his gambling addiction behind him?

"I bet you can't quit gambling, Bennett."

And then she sings "Life on Mars."
Overall, I found The Gambler to be a decent film that is never outright bad but I didn’t find it that memorable either. The performance from Wahlberg is fantastic and the supporting players aren’t shabby either—especially Michael K. Williams. The big issue, however, with the cast is that most of them don’t have much screen time. I really would have liked to see more of Jessica Lange in the film and not using John Goodman as much as you can always feels like a crime to me. 

Goodman, seen here doing his best Marlon Brando impression.

However, this is a minor complaint because there really wasn’t anyone slouching in the cast. Additionally, I really enjoyed the symbolism the film liked to throw at the viewer. Whether it be a scene where Bennett is literally running towards freedom and away from his addiction or the film’s use of water, the symbolism of the film might be my favorite aspect. For example, the movie loves water imagery to show that Bennett is drowning in his own problems and he is well in over his head and while this symbolism may lack subtlety and seems sorta obvious, it works so well.

Add glasses and suddenly he's a college professor. The homework he assigns...
saying hello to your mothers for him.

The only real downside I found overtly obvious with this film was the fact that the drama was hard to latch onto. I’m not really a gambler but this fact wasn’t what kept me from getting completely sucked into the story. The performances are there, the conflict is brewing and the characters are interesting but it just lacked the proper hooks to suck me in. All the ingredients are present but the final mixture just didn’t have that special "Umf" needed to make this film more than just something I will give a single chance to and never watch again.

"I'll bet on black."
"Wrong game."

Omar would be the last person I'd wanna owe money
to.  Just thinking about it would make me piss myself
if I heard "The Farmer in the Dell."
The story in The Gambler is serviceable, the drama feels adequate at times, the cast is filled with talented individuals and the characters are a rich bunch that feel real enough that you could probably run into them at a gas station or a grocery store (and then, hopefully, apologize because you ran into them) but the film just didn’t have that certain magic to invest any real interest in me. It never bored me, I enjoyed the symbolism, and I really wanted to see more John Goodman (the world needs more Goodman, that’s a fact, Jack and other readers not named Jack) but it really was just an average viewing experience for me, nothing more.

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