I’m feeling lucky. All on black.
From the tell-all trailer and type-castable title, we may think we know all there is to know about “The Gambler.” Some idiot loses all his money at a poker table and then spends the rest of the movie running from unforgiving headhunters to whom he owes money. To our surprise, we find that the film delves far deeper than the superficial world of a gambling addict.
The only reason the trailer seems unappealing is because two minutes and thirty three seconds is hardly enough to capture the severely nuanced work of art that is “The Gambler.” In fact, “The Gambler” is such a powerful and philosophically provocative film that it cannot be fully appreciated after only one viewing. The film penetrates the soul until it has aroused your curiosity and left you eerily motivated to reshape your life.
Jim Bennett, played by Mark Wahlberg, teaches the modern novel at a university to students whom he harangues and beleaguers relentlessly yet loves with the compassion of a mentor.
“The Gambler” is a remake of Karel Reisz’s 1974 version by the same title. Even so, the new film offers a rare level of sophistication that sets it apart.
The quality that makes “The Gambler” so satisfying is at first hard to place. Perhaps it is the subtle way that symbolism is introduced. Or perhaps it is the subliminal intimations propounding polemical questions of suicide and nihilism.
It’s the acute attention to detail that director Rupert Wyatt utilizes that makes this film such a phenomenon. The flawless editing ensures a comfortable pace while conveying tension in the backroom deals that put Bennett’s life on the line.
To a man who treats life like it’s a game, pride seems an arbitrary principle. Yet maybe it’s what connects Bennett to humanity.
The bathtub scenes serve to illustrate Bennett’s unsuccessful attempts to stay afloat. Countless times, Bennett courts death only to find that it really isn’t up to him. The implication stands that some metaphysical property decides who lives and dies and when. So no matter what he does to destroy himself, it’s ultimately in the hands of the powers that be.
Either way, “The Gambler” is not as simple as one might think. The film extricates itself from the petty weekend flick category and enters the arena of the big-shots. Because it is not easily understood, nor is it deliberately formulated according to tried-and-true tricks of film, “The Gambler” is a success that transcends the realm of ordinary movies.
Rather than attacking the audience with an unmitigated onslaught of sex and violence, “The Gambler” uses those tropes sparingly and, by doing so, hits the audience with inexplicable impact.
The unmistakable intimacy Bennett shares with his students allows viewers to explore nontraditional and refreshing interactions. It is altogether fitting and proper that Bennett share a platonic relationship with those to whom he teaches Camus and Shakespeare.
Although Bennett may reserve more-than-platonic feelings for one of his students, Wyatt is mindful not to overdo it. Still, it’s clear that romance is not the signature strain of the plot line. After all, if nothing matters, what’s the point?
Wahlberg’s performance is commendable not only because of his range of emotions, evidenced from no later than the first minute in, but also for the startling ties that draw Wahlberg to his blackjack-bedeviled counterpart. The film opens on a grief-stricken Bennett and finds him high as a kite halfway in. This is much like Wahlberg’s own life, which has witnessed the ascendance from juvenile delinquent to Calvin Klein underwear model.
Stunning performances come also from actors Jessica Lange and John Goodman, although they are not the only big names to grace the screen in this movie.
The music score is further worthy of note. With seamless transitions from Chopin to Bob Dylan, the soundtrack will have you grinning in your seat with geeky enthusiasm.
All in all, “The Gambler” deserves more recognition than it has received. It is a poignant reminder of our mortality.
5 / 5 stars