say gambling is a victimless crime, but not in Jim Bennett’s case. Anyone too closely
linked to the degenerate literature professor could find themselves in a world
of collateral hurt. The same goes without saying for Bennett, but that seems to
be part of his wildly self-destructive plans. Several very large debts will inevitably
come due in Rupert Wyatt’s Christmas Day release, The Gambler (trailer
loose remake of the moody 1970s James Caan vehicle considered to be partially
inspired by the Dostoyevsky novel of the same name.
beloved grandfather has just passed away, leaving him nothing, because he is a
total mess. He shouldn’t an inheritance, as a gainfully employed academic with
one reasonably well received novel under his belt. Unfortunately, Bennett can
rack up debt quicker than a president with no private sector experience. We
will see him do it during the first of many trips to an underground casino.
has amassed $240,000 in gambling debts to the Korean mob, led by the severe Mr.
Lee. You really do not want to owe him money. To keep playing and keep losing,
Bennett borrows fifty K from loanshark Neville Baraka. You really, really do
not want to owe him money. He is up briefly, but eventually he blows through
that as well. After being rebuffed by his wealthy mother, Bennett explores the
possibility of yet another loan from Russian mobster “Frank,” who is a real
character. You really, really, really do not want to owe him money. In fact,
Frank is so hardcore, he even gives Bennett pause. Nevertheless, it is only a
matter of time before they do business together.
Gambler is way better than you would
expect, but it is almost entirely due to the villains. John Goodman’s Frank
gets a good number of laughs throughout the film, but he is still scary as all
get-out. Given his record of memorable supporting turns in award-contending
films (Argo, The Artist, Inside Llewyn
Davis), Goodman arguably deserves an honorary Oscar by now. As usual, he
makes the film. Likewise, Michael Kenneth Williams regularly upstages his more
famous co-star as the flamboyantly ruthless Baraka, while Alvin Ing also makes
quite an impression as the icily intense Mr. Lee. Even Anthony Kelley earns
some notice as Lamar Allen, Bennett’s star basketball player student, who may
or may not shave some points for his prof.
an extent, Mark Wahlberg convincingly falls apart as Bennett. However, he
conspicuously overplays screenwriter William Monahan’s vastly overwritten bombastic,
self-loathing classroom lectures. You’d think he was trying to be Meryl Streep
in Osage County, but at least he is
not half as embarrassing. On the other hand, the role of Amy Phillips, Bennett’s
student-slash-potential love interest-slash-witness to his implosion is not
exactly what you would might similarly describe as overwritten. Frankly, Brie
Larsen, last year’s indie sensation in Short
Term 12, looks like she regrets every minute playing her.
Wyatt keeps the pace brisk and cinematographer Greig Fraser gives it all a hazy
City of Angels noir sheen. It is often quite visually dynamic and whenever he
needs help, Wyatt can count on Goodman for an injection of adrenaline through
the film’s breastplate. Recommended for those who enjoy distinctive heavies, The Gambler opens nationwide today
(12/25), including the Regal Union Square in New York.
Labels: Gambling films, John Goodman, Remakes