Combustible Celluloid
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With: Mark Wahlberg, Brie Larson, Michael Kenneth Williams, Jessica Lange, John Goodman, George Kennedy, Emory Cohen, Anthony Kelley, Andre Braugher, Domenick Lombardozzi, Leland Orser, Kent Avenido
Written by: William Monahan, based on a screenplay by James Toback
Directed by: Rupert Wyatt
MPAA Rating: R for language throughout, and for some sexuality/nudity
Running Time: 111
Date: 12/25/2014

The Gambler (2014)

2 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

The Chips Fall Where They May

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

The Gambler is yet another Hollywood remake, and as usual, it's not as good as the original. The 1974 original, which was directed by Karel Reisz, written by James Toback, and starred James Caan, captured a moment, while the remake merely copies one. Yet, taking the new movie all by itself, it still has a certain kind of resonance, and like the original, also has something to say about the human condition.

Literature professor Jim Bennett (Mark Wahlberg) is deeply in debt in an underground gambling establishment, and has only seven days to pay it back. He borrows from a loan shark, Neville (Michael Kenneth Williams), and loses again. He borrows from his mother (Jessica Lange) and loses still more. In class, he encourages a pretty student, Amy (Brie Larson), and initiates a vaguely inappropriate relationship with him. Meanwhile, another of his students is a top basketball player, Lamar (Anthony Kelley), and, pressured by Neville, Jim reluctantly coaxes Lamar to throw the big game. Then, to pay off everything, including a debt to a shady, verbose underworld figure (John Goodman), Jim bets everything he has on a spin of the roulette wheel.

Wahlberg is mesmerizing in the lead role, reckless and assured, but helplessly drawn to underworld life, and at the same time confronting his students with harsh realities about writing. Writer William Monahan (The Departed) crafts a script full of stylized dialogue, giving actors like John Goodman snappy stuff to chew on. And director Rupert Wyatt (Rise of the Planet of the Apes) plunges his characters into a slick-sleazy vision of a gambler's world. In a way, it's more alluring and less profound than the original, but enough of a cautionary tale that it's still worth a look.

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