In a rare moment of movie bliss, I was a third of the way through “The Gambler,” directed by Rupert Wyatt and featuring Mark Wahlberg before I realized this production was about a small slice of hell and it wasn’t going to pretend otherwise.
With sentimentality, you get fancy plot turns and apologetic dialogue. This film resists all that and remain a slow cooker — a painful one, at that.
This is a dark character study, gritty and to the point. It is also effecting and merciless.
Further, the beauty of this film lies in its ambiguity. The sharks that repeatedly pass on the option of breaking of Bennett’s legs or killing him outright just add to the agonizing suspense. It also makes it hard to hate them, although these are the bad guys, at least in theory.
Meanwhile, Wahlberg’s ambiguity is priceless. He should be angrier or sadder or more nervous. Instead, he just rides it out with a clenched depression and determined tunnel vision. It’s frustrating and tragic. It makes I hard for you to love him, even though, in theory, this is the good guy.
Contrary to many critics out there, I prefer this remake to the 1974 mid-shelf film that featured James Caan, Paul Sorvino and Lauren Hutton – based on the novel written by James Toback. That was considered a classic in its day.
What shines here, besides the unforced plot is Jessica Lang as Bennett’s mother, Roberta, John Goodman as an underworld shark named Frank, Brie Larson as a doe-eyed girlfriend Amy Phillips, Alvin Ing as Korean gangster Lee and – most notably – Michael K. Williams as Neville Baraka, just another street shark who has to keep his anger in check despite Bennett’s infuriating behavior.
In addition, Theo Green and Jon Brion‘s film score is fabulous.
The end product is gritty and rewarding — top talent tackling a B movie and getting it right.
The read a full review of “The Gambler,” click here.