Addiction is a theme that often translates remarkably well on screen, breeding films such as Trainspotting, Shame, The Lost Weekend and Requiem for a Dream, which are all such compelling and profound pieces of filmmaking. So with Rupert Wyatt’s The Gambler – a remake of the James Caan-starring, 1974 endeavour – everything is in place for a hard-hitting, rich drama about gambling addictions – and yet we barely even scratch the surface in this disappointing movie.
The gambler in question is professor Jim Bennett (Mark Wahlberg), who finds himself in severe debt with a collection of people who you really wouldn’t like to be in debt to – including the dangerous Neville Baraka (Michael Kenneth Williams) and the eccentric Fran (John Goodman), causing the desperate protagonist to borrow money from his own mother. While attempting to recover the money and keep himself out of danger – he enters into an illicit affair with his intellectual student, Amy (Brie Larson).
Jim’s unhealthy compulsion for gambling should make for the crux of this narrative, as it’s undoubtedly the most intriguing theme, and yet we carelessly deviate away from that; in turn becoming a standard, generic thriller we’ve seen countless times before. It’s particularly disappointing that this be the case given William Monahan (The Departed) is on screenwriting duties, as you’d expect more depth to the lead role, a greater understanding of why he is betting everything he has, and why he is willing to put himself in grave danger for the thrill of the roulette board – and yet we’re left wanting. What transpires is a protagonist we simply can’t empathise with, or emotionally connect to – which devalues the latter half of the movie, as we simply don’t care if he lives or dies; detracting from the point of the picture.
Thankfully however, where Monahan’s script does prove its worth, is within the sharp, witty dialogue, with the majority of impressive monologues going by way of Goodman’s Frank – easily the best thing about this underwhelming drama. Rumours have it that a certain Martin Scorsese was originally attached to the project, before leaving it for somebody else to take on; and having now seen the finished product, you can certainly see why.