Now, I consider myself to be a bit of a cinema enthusiast, but even I was unaware that Rupert Wyatt‘s latest offering was a remake of a film starring James Caan from 1974. I used to read a fair few reviews before I started this blog, but nowadays I don’t read any – I’d rather keep my thoughts free of any superfluous clutter. As such, these kinds of details sometimes get missed. I do, however, sometimes use Rotten Tomatoes and IMDb to ascertain the general consensus regarding a particular film and in this case, I think I may be missing something.
With a 46% Rotten rating from (to date) 116 reviews and a (currently) 6.1 rating on IMDb from 8,983 users, where did all the love go for The Gambler? Ok, so it’s not exactly languishing in the sub-15%/ rating below 4 category, but still, with all that talent on show what went wrong for the audience? Well, nothing that I could see. If you *click* on the Rotten Tomatoes link you’ll notice the “Critics Consensus” tells us that “…The Gambler still suffers from comparisons to the James Caan classic that inspired it.” Herein lies the problem. Can we not just view cinema, unencumbered by comparison? Having not seen the original, I can do nothing but view The Gambler on its own merits and as far as I can see, those merits are good.
The Gambler isn’t your usual run-of-the-mill fare – a narrative construct that allows the audience to root for the good guy, hope the bad guys get what’s coming to them and we all live happily ever after. There’s a complication to the characters involved that requires a level of empathy we may not be happy to imbue. There is no black-and-white within this world and perhaps it is those elements that turn off the audience. That Mark Wahlberg’s character, Jim Bennett, has self-destructive tendencies would possibly be to oversimplify of his characterisation; one thing is for sure though – he’s not very likable, but he is our protagonist.
The concern/ humanity demonstrated by those Jim has to deal with to continue his “destruction-by-gambling” is refreshing and elevates each to a level that far exceeds any positive character traits demonstrated by our “hero”. His brutality with the truth cuts far deeper than any knife and will not endear him to anyone. The intelligence in the writing, a “non dumbing-down” if you will of the language used is refreshing, treating the audience as equals in the world that has been created. Once again, this does not conform with the usual and as such puts the audience on the back foot. There are no real winners and losers in The Gambler, just participants in this particular story.
As for the participants, I for one think Rupert Wyatt has fashioned a worthy piece of cinema. He is clearly a talented director. There is an uncomplicated approach to his presentation that works extremely well and his particular use of music within The Gambler is outstanding. Mark Wahlberg – as usual – is great to watch and this performance harks back to a level we first saw in Boogie Nights. Brie Larson shines in her role as student/ “love interest” Amy, while it’s great to see John Goodman with a role to get his teeth into, although a bit more screen time would have been great. The same can be said of Jessica Lange, who is fantastic as Jim’s mother Roberta, but you have to take what you can get I suppose. That’s by no means a criticism though, just a personal preference to see both Mr. Goodman and Ms. Lange eating up the screen more often with this kind of quality writing.
Would I recommend The Gambler? I certainly would! It’s probably no going to be showing much beyond this week, but if you get the chance to see it, please do.
Thank you for reading 🙂