The Gambler – 3/5 – Movie Reviews by Ry!

The GamblerThe Gambler – 3/5 – In a film industry where there are many standards, it is good to see when a film takes a chance and does something with raw vigor.  To take many subsets, mix in some characterization and throw in thoughtful dialogue, you can create an experience that is spectacular.  Even so, there will be times when the mixture doesn’t work well within that melting pot.  Queue in The Gambler; a film with a lot of the above mentioned, but doesn’t do enough to pull through as being great.  The Gambler turns into a film with a lot of potential just gets to a boiling point in being a decent experience.

Premise: A risk taker at night, Jim Bennett is a English Professor with a out-of-control addiction.  With debt going beyond his limits, Bennett must face the consequences or find a light in a newfound relationship.  With a second chance, he will gamble his life for a chance at something more.

In the lead of the Lit professor obsessed with gambling Jim Bennett; we have Mark Wahlberg.  Wahlberg has had an up and down career in films, but when he hits his stride, he is great.  He hits a great stride in this character.  As Jim Bennett, we get someone that is devolved any human emotions, but is ironically raw in his interactions and emotive output with everyone.  There is a subtle presence of emotions within Bennett, one that shows calculated wit that makes you experience the downfall of some of his decisions.  His reactions are stale, but also powerful at the same time.  This is a testament to how well Wahlberg does in building the character, both in his physical presence and dialogue delivery.   With the secondary cast, you have as followed:

Jessica Lange as Roberta

Brie Larson as Amy Phillips

Michael Kenneth Williams as Neville

Alvin Ing as Mister Lee

John Goodman as Frank

With a mixture of great talent and legendary actors/actress, you get a good mix of relevant characters in supporting roles.  Each of the people above gives great depth to the ‘problems’ or ‘hardship’ within Bennett’s downward spiral.  They add either emotional or logical support to what he does and doesn’t do within the film.  The dialogue is what helps prop up most of the actors/actress here.  The situations are endearing, as each interaction is charming, whimsical and sometimes moving.  The film’s strength is reliant upon these characters, especially as the direction falls flat at times.

The direction of the film is somewhat convoluted.  There is a notion to pull from many different genres, but never correlate into a consistent tone between the first two acts.  On the surface (and the initial beginnings and first act), this film is a character study of how someone can spiral out of control within an addiction.  With that addiction, you see the consequences of their actions, as well as the foolery in wondering why.  You wonder (as they go down this rabbit hole) if they’ll ever find the right light at the tunnel.  In that, this film shines the most.  Watching the complexity of Jim Bennett is what keeps you in the film.  He drives truth in his raw humility within his ‘day’ life as a lit Professor, but throws any kind of intellectual thought out the window at ‘night’ when he gambles.  Throwing a wrench into the spiral is his relationship with one of his students, Amy Phillips.  Outside of the dynamic of being innocent and serene, she provides that ‘idea of reason’ for Bennett.  She is what starts to show that ‘light’ for him, questioning that causes the purpose to see the conflict of his gambling.  This forces (slowly) some kind of change.  All is well within this theme, but there is also an added element of the gambling aspect, as well as some gangster style tones throughout.  These two subsets aren’t left to dangle in the background, as it causes a clash with the overall theme.  These other aspects pull on trying to be the ‘main’ part of the film, which causes a lot of fragmentation between the first and second act.  When this happens, the ‘dialogue driven’ situations can sometimes be dreary, causing you not to care what is happening.  Once we get to the third act, the film takes its cue from the ‘overall’ character elements, and refocuses.  Here, we finally see some big decisions being made within Bennett’s mind.  This draws a conclusion that is somewhat unexpected but convenient for all the players involved.   Once the climax happens, it is somewhat underwhelming but ironically appreciated.   The appreciation comes in the fact that it ends rightly on the characters that are important to the main theme.  Within a single moment, there is a chance of redemption that follows the theme of the addiction that was introduced in the beginning.

The visuals of the film are your typical ’21st’ century setting of everyday life.  You have the city, the university and the setting for the gambling.  All is placed as fixtures for aesthetic appeal.  The music is non-existent in the film, and has no bearing on the experience.

The Gambler is a film with a lot of potential as a character film, but conflicts with other subsets to create an experience that is disjointed and convoluted.   At times, the film is a bore fest, but overall it is enjoyable to watch.  If you’re a fan of Wahlberg and like character films, you will enjoy this.  This is a good outing for a matinee, but nothing more than that.

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