(US - 2014)
Directed by Rupert Wyatt. Written by William Monahan. Cast: Mark Wahlberg, John Goodman, Jessica Lange, Brie Larson, Michael Kenneth Williams, George Kennedy, Andre Braugher, Anthony Kelley, Emory Cohen, Alvin Ing, Domenick Lombardozzi, Richard Schiff, Simon Rhee. (R, 111 mins)
In remaking the Dostoevsky-inspired, James Toback-scripted, Karel Reisz-directed 1974 cult film THE GAMBLER, screenwriter William Monahan (THE DEPARTED) and director Rupert Wyatt (RISE OF THE PLANET OF THE APES) initially make a sincere effort to stick to the gritty, character-driven ideals of the source. Many scenes in the early-going are almost defiant in the way they let dialogue-heavy interactions and conversations go on with little concern for audience restlessness and in no hurry at all to move at the quick-cut, short-attention-span pace of most of today's multiplex offerings. In many ways, it's part of a current throwback movement to the 1970s as seen in recent films like THE DROP and A WALK AMONG THE TOMBSTONES. THE GAMBLER '74 had the rock-solid foundation of James Caan entering the post-GODFATHER pinnacle of his career, all cocksure swagger and Sonny Corleone rage as Ivy League-educated, NYU literature prof Axel Freed, who's in debt to loan sharks to the tune of $44,000. Toback's script was largely autobiographical and THE GAMBLER '14 lacks that personal touch and its '70s aesthetic has a certain artificiality to it as the film goes on (gifted prodigies acting out against suffocating family expectations would be a theme Toback explored further in his brilliant 1978 directorial debut FINGERS). While films like THE DROP and A WALK AMONG THE TOMBSTONES have a '70s mindset in the present day, THE GAMBLER '14 strays from its source as it progresses, becoming more beholden to commercial expectations and predictable character arcs, and despite drastically higher stakes thanks to inflation, it never really feels like L.A.-based literature prof and one-and-done novelist Jim Bennett (Mark Wahlberg) is in any serious danger.
SHORT TERM 12) is too good for such a muddled and sketchily-written role. Her attraction to Jim would make a lot more sense if Wahlberg was playing the part like Caan played Axel Freed. Where Axel publicly possessed a magnetic sense of indestructible, self-confident bravado no matter how much money he lost, Wahlberg's Jim is disheveled, glum and glowering, with a constant Joe Btfsplk dark cloud hovering over him from the moment he's introduced. Axel Freed tried to make it rain, it blew up in his face, and he defiantly asked for more, while Jim Bennett just shrugs and places another five-figure bet on one hand. Both are committing slow suicide, but Wahlberg's characterization doesn't have the same sense of consequences-be-damned kamikaze fervor, regardless of how good he is in the role. Caan's Axel Freed came off like a dumbass, but he was a dumbass with balls. Wahlberg's Jim Bennett just comes off like a dumbass.