Sometimes it seems as if Hollywood green lights a remake for the sake of it. Other times, a redo has something truly special to offer. The latter is the case with The Gambler and the big reason to see this update of the 1974 classic starring James Caan is the one and only Mark Wahlberg.
Wahlberg is Jim Bennett, an English professor at an LA college whose passion in life is truly embodying the title of the movie. He finds high stakes gambling institutions across town (most of them underground) and wages ridiculous amounts of money. He may be the grandson of one of the 20 richest men in the world, but that money is not his, by a long shot.
The second standout in this solid gambling flick that works equally as well as a thriller is Jessica Lange. She is Wahlberg’s mother and controls the purse strings to his inheritance. She knows all too well about his addiction and refuses to participate, help out or lend a hand in any form. That is, until he loses money from the wrong people.
A third reason to have this remake arrives in the form of John Goodman. Goodman’s Frank is a big time gangster who for some strange reason takes a liking to Jim. He wants to help him, even if loaning him money is a high risk endeavor. Goodman kills it and, judging by how this Oscar race goes, could easily hear his name as a Best Supporting Actor nominee.
As you can tell from The Gambler trailer, this is Wahlberg’s show and like he has for years now, he delivers. But Jim is unlike any character Wahlberg has ever played prior. Sure, that charm is there and so too is his ability to make us laugh with his character’s ability to frame the obvious verbally. But, there is something truly deeper to his portrayal of Jim that may be one of Wahlberg’s best performances of his career.
Even though he keeps making the wrong decisions and heading to places and into relationships that he shouldn’t, the audience still pulls for Jim. That speaks volumes about Wahlberg and his ability to bring this character to life and give it a heart that we want to see keep beating, even as dozens line up who seek to see it stop.
Director Rupert Wyatt (see his latest work and watch Rise of the Planet of the Apes online) has helmed The Gambler with an even hand -- from his scene set-up choices to how he utilizes music and shot framing. But the greatest gift that Wyatt has done with the remake of The Gambler is how he captures the actual gambling.
Nothing creates cinematic tension like watching a character that has everything to lose, literally put everything on the line. We know, especially if filmmakers and actors have done their job, the human cost of what is at stake. Watching a card handed from dealer to player in the game of blackjack -- that can result in riches or certain harm or death -- is pulse pounding. The way that Wyatt sets up, shoots and Wahlberg delivers in those milliseconds of life-changing risk is nothing short of stunning. It’s hard to think of mere seconds creating that kind of tension in any other form.
Our The Gambler review finds that this is the rare remake that is not only worthy of its predecessor, but also adds something more to it. That is all we ask of an endeavor like this. Hollywood should learn from The Gambler remake as it continues its love affair with bringing to life stories we have already seen.