Cert: 15 / 111 mins / Dir. Rupert Wyatt / Trailer
Oh, Mark. Marky, Marky Mark. He keeps trying, I have to give him that. The problem with Wahlberg is that he's never out-and-out bad, he's just rarely good enough. The Gambler extends the general rule of 'did they mean to cast him in this, or did someone else drop out?'
Rupert Wyatt's vaguely soporific film about about a gambler (full marks for the title, at least) watching his life spiral out of control, feels like it has more to say, but can't articulate itself with Wahlberg as its mouthpiece. Unless of course, the audience is supposed to feel as noncommittally numb to the impending violence as the central character does? Wahlberg has the malaise to pull off the role of the emotionally (not to mention financially) bankrupt Jim, but not the gravitas.
It's one thing to show us that Jim is trapped in a downward spiral of ill-thought decisions, but the few characters in the film who do care about him are given so little expansion that you end up sitting with Jim in the atmosphere-free bubble as things go from bad to worse, more an observer of events than the viewer of a film. The story isn't about Jim's descent into roulette-fuelled chaos since he's pretty much at the bottom of the pile when we meet him. It's more about his failure to willfully ascend, and in that Wahlberg succeeds, at least.
The Gambler almost goes so far as to present problem-gambling without judgement, other than the self-evident condemnation of a protagonist it's impossible to root for. But It's almost as if the film either can't explain the psychology of gambling addiction, or just doesn't want to try. Although maybe this isn't the film for people who don't see the appeal of long-odds gambling*1?
In movies like this, there's a fine line between over-explaining how each card-game works, thus patronising the players in the audience, and just assuming that everyone knows the mechanics of the games and losing those that don't, as a result. The Gambler rides this line (to its credit), but sticking to Blackjack and Roulette, which is about as cliched as the film gets. The script's tendency to avoid lazy and dramatic gambling/gangster tropes is, ironically, one of its main weaknesses. It steers clear of the usual casino-based pitfalls, but offers little new in return, somehow.
If there's a silver lining to the cloud, it's John Goodman and his overbearing yet subtle magnificence, bringing the only real energy to the script, but far too infrequently for my liking.
Like too many films recently, The Gambler is by no means 'bad', but when I'm watching a character go through a living nightmare due to their own bad choices and bad luck, I should probably feel a little more… well, connected, somehow. But if the lead character's not going to try, why should I?
Hmm, Orange Wednesday's tops (hurry, while you still can).
Unless you're a Wahlberg completist, you'll probably only watch it the once, so a rental.
Not even close.
That, I honestly don't know.
Wahlberg starred in the US remake of The Italian Job alongside Seth Green, who was the voice of the droid Todo 360 in Star Wars: The Clone Wars.
*1 Wow, I used the word 'Gamble' far too much in that paragraph. Can't be helped, though. Bah.
• ^^^ That's dry, British humour, and most likely sarcasm or facetiousness.
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