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The Gambler (Mark Wahlberg) - Review

The Gambler

Review by Rob Carnevale

IndieLondon Rating: 3 out of 5

THE last time Mark Wahlberg worked from a script supplied by William Monahan he delivered a career-best performance in The Departed. He comes close to recapturing that form again in the pair’s second venture, The Gambler.

Taking its inspiration from the 1974 film of the same name starring James Caan, but in no way a straight remake, the film is an enjoyable examination of one man’s compulsive need to screw up a good life that benefits greatly from Wahlberg’s impressive central performancer.

He plays the screw-up in question, literature professor Jim Bennett, whose inability to quit while he is ahead when gambling gives rise to high debt and subsequent loans from his mother (Jessica Lange) and a couple of loan sharks (including one played by John Goodman).

When he is finally given an ultimatum to pay up or face the consequences, Bennett must decide how to put things right or risk both his fledgling relationship with one of his students (Brie Larson) and the life of another of his students.

Admittedly, Wyatt’s film takes its own gamble by placing a protagonist front and centre who is often difficult to like, let alone root for come the film’s latter stages given his compulsive need to self-destruct.

But while also a weakness, it’s also a strength given the enjoyment that can be had in trying to figure Bennett out. And it’s credit to both Wyatt and Monahan that the character is given so much room in which to unravel, as this is a character piece first and foremost.

And while Wahlberg may be a surprise choice in the lead role, he repays the faith shown in him with a richly absorbing turn as Bennett. For this is a different kind of role for the actor… one that requires him to dial back on the charisma and confidence usually exhibited in favour of someone prone to self-loathing and obsessiveness. This is a gripping central performance that helps to paper over the cracks of some of the film’s weaker elements.

There’s strong support, too, from Larson as the feisty love interest, Lange as the put-upon but not particularly likeable mum and Goodman as one of the foreboding loan sharks. While insights into LA’s underground gambling scene provide an eye-catching backdrop and help to raise the stakes in terms of tension.

If the third act suffers from a lack of risk-taking that surely misses the point of its central character, then Wyatt still manages to deliver a satisfying conclusion that should satisfy the majority of those who have taken the gamble to see it. All told, The Gambler is well worth a roll of the dice.

Certificate: 15
Running time: 111mins
UK Release Date: January 23, 2015