Nihilistic gambling. This is about professor by day, gambler by night (Mark Wahlberg), getting in over his head, and owing money to some dangerous people. Here are the reasons why I was excited about this movie: 1. It is directed by Rupert Wyatt; Rise of the Planet of the Apes is my favorite movie of 2011, and he knows how to spin a tale and do it stylishly. 2. I like Marky Mark as an actor; he may not have a whole lot of range, but I like the notes that he hits. 3. I enjoy gambling stories; it’s been awhile, but I have nothing but great memories of Rounders. Upon watching this, I would say that this sufficiently met my expectations, although it never blew me away.
While I do enjoy gambling stories, this is a prime example on why I don’t like to gamble: it gives you a high, and if you ride double or nothings long enough, you’re going to crap out. This is a man that has to HAS to make that one last bet to make it bigger, and he doesn’t have the capacity to just walk away when he’s up. When he’s hot, he’s on fire, but he doesn’t know when to fold them, as the Kenny Rogers song says. Because of this, you are nervous when he’s laying down thousands of dollars, crossing your fingers that he doesn’t bust out, because these are treacherous people he’s dealing with. John Goodman gives a terrific performance in the little time that he’s featured, and he’s given some of the best lines in the movie. In addition to that, there’s also Michael Kenneth Williams who plays intimidating very well, as well as an entire Korean mob. To say that he has the deck stacked against him would be an understatement.
At first, it seems that this is a man stuck in a bad situation, but it slowly dawns on you that this is a man trying to commit suicide, only by having somebody else pull the proverbial trigger. He just doesn’t care, and just like it would be in real life, it’s hard to watch somebody do this to themselves. He’s reckless, apathetic and puts himself in a situation where there is no easy way out. It holds your attention for the most part, but there are a couple of small issues. For one, with Wahlberg, you can totally buy that he is a desperate and hopeless gambling addict, but it’s just not feasible that he is somebody that teaches college level courses. He never comes across that way at any time, so it’s always a point of disconnect. The other issue I had was that I didn’t wholly believe where his character arc ended up; I don’t want to get into specifics so as to avoid spoilers, but I feel if the movie showed one more week of time passage, it would end on a completely different note. Still this is stylish and well made enough where I will say that it’s worthy of your time.
The Gambler (2014) ***1/2
– Critic for Hire