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The Gambler: 1974 and 2014

The Gambler (2014) is a reasonably well put together remake of the 1974 film by James Toback, directed by Rupert Wyatt, known for 2008’s The Escapist and 2001’s Rise of the Planet of the Apes. Featuring Mark Wahlberg in the lead role as Jim Bennet, there are plenty of big names in this remake. Oscar-winning actors, including Jessica Lange as his mother and Brie Larson, as well as John Goodman, famous for roles in Roseanne and Argo, winner of many awards including SAG, Primetime Emmy, and Golden Globes all feature in this version.


What is it about?

Set in Los Angeles, Jim Bennett is a literature professor who uses gambling as a way of self-sabotage. He is involved in high stakes underground games, including poker and blackjack and ends up owing well over US$200,000 to Korean crime lord Mr Lee, who gives him seven days to pay the debt or he will have him killed. Bennett gets involved in shadier and shadier loan sharks, owing US$50,000 to Baraka, and when he loses this he goes to Frank, who is even more ruthless, expertly played by Goodman.

As a professor, his lectures descend into a tirade of extremist views on how to achieve perfection in their chosen field and that not being exemplary means that they should not even try. His teachings resonate with three of his students, the main ones being Amy, a quiet and capable student, Dexter, a tennis star, and Lamar, a future NBA star. Amy spends her evenings waitressing in the underground gambling rings Bennett frequents, and all three are helping Bennett in his gambling endeavours.

Lange, playing Bennett’s mother Roberta, along with Frank, both try to talk Bennett out of borrowing more money, but his suicidal tendencies and outlook on life mean he does not listen to them. Eventually Roberta loans her son the required money, but Bennett fritters this away in a casino with Amy.

As he was not paid, Baraka kidnaps Bennett and threatens to kill Amy unless Bennett convinces Lamar to win his college basketball semi-final by fewer than 7 points. Bennett borrows US$260,000 from Frank who threatens to kill everyone in Bennetts life if it is not repaid. Bennett gets Lee to stake him US$150,000 on the pretence that it is the only way he can afford to pay back the amount owed, and uses the US$150,000 to bribe Lamar (thus saving Amy’s life). He sends Dexter to Las Vegas with the remaining US$260,000 on the game, and Bennett uses the winnings to pay off his debt to Baraka.

Still needing to pay off his debts to Lee and Frank, he invites both to a neutral location and wagers enough money to pay them both off (if he wins) on the Roulette Wheel. He is successful, and leaves the club, broke, but out of debt. He runs miles across the city to Amy’s apartment.

Critical Reception

The remake is not particularly good, or bad, with a Rotten Tomatoes approval rating of 44%. Metascore has mixed reviews from both users and critics, averaging 55. HITFIX gives it 83, saying it is quietly confident and Wahlberg gives a believable performance with intelligence and depth.

The Washington Post on the other hand scores just 37, with a scathing review centred on Wahlberg as a self-centred privileged jerk, and Goodman being the only redeeming feature. James Caan, Bennett in the original 1974 film even declined to a cameo appearance.

Users equally game mixed opinions; some really liked the film, but hoped for more scenes with the electrifying Lange, whereas others found the dialogue heavy, that the film went on and on, and there was much criticism of Wahlberg as lacking any semblance of comic timing.

Overall, there was very little buzz for awards, though it did win minor award nominations for Sound Editing (Golden Trailer Awards), Locations (COAL Awards: winner, and LMGI Awards nominee), and one Supporting Actor Nomination for Michael Kenneth Williams at the 2015 Black Reel Awards. It made around US$39.2 million globally, which equates to around US$21.5 million after theatres took their cut, meaning that the film made a loss based on its US$25 million budget.


Comparisons to the original

The original 1974 movie received 78% on Rotten Tomatoes and 65 on Metascore. This is in part due to James Caan’s stellar performance, who manages to portray a man in decline, wrapped up in his self-destruction. Additionally, the writing, soundtrack and cinematography all come together to create a sense of drama and tension that is missing from the remake, and there is a lot more darkness and it is unclear if he will actually succeed at the end, making for far more compelling viewing.








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