The Gambler stars Mark Wahlberg as a university professor (Jim Bennett) who has a secret life as a high stakes self-destructive Blackjack player. He is a good player, but whenever he wins he just keeps betting more and more until he loses. This leaves him heavily in debt to a number of very dangerous gamblers and loan sharks.
The film has an excellent cast full of top notch talent. John Goodman plays the loan shark “Frank”, who tries to mentor JIm about how to change his life, while at the same time casually pointing out that he will kill Jim and everyone he loves if the money is not paid back.
The movie does have some exciting gambling scenes, but overall the film falls flat. The problem is that Jim does not seem to have any redeeming qualities that make him worth caring about. There is no valid reason for him to be so self destructive. He comes from a very wealthy family and has a well paying job as an English Associate Professor. He is also great looking, healthy, drives a fancy car and has a beautiful young student falling in love with him.
Given all the advantages Jim has in life, he does not come across as the “cool guy with a tortured soul” that the film makers obviously intended him to be. Instead, throughout the film, he just seems to be a spoiled whiner.
The only reason we are given for his behavior is that he has had the disappointment of not becoming the great writer he thought he would be. Instead; he wrote one mediocre novel and teaches literature to a group of students who don’t really care about it. We are all supposed to feel real sorry for him because of that, but the guy is such a jerk we just can’t. Most people in this world would consider themselves incredibly fortunate if the worst thing that ever happened to them was that they did not get recognized as America’s greatest writer.
Jessica Lang plays Jim’s wealthy mother who he finally goes to for money when trouble reaches its peek. She has given him money for these types of problems many times before, but tells him this is the last time. Despite getting a huge amount of money from her, he is nothing but sullen and cruel to her. Even though he is supposed to be the hero of the film, we found ourselves half wishing that she would tell him to get lost and leave him to face the consequences.
There also seems to be no real chemistry with the love interest in the film. Jim is pursued by his student Amy (played by the beautiful Brie Larson). We first see her in a scene that demonstrates that in addition to being an all around bad person, Jim is also a terrible teacher. He tells a lecture hall full of his students that they are all terrible writers except for Amy who is at genius level. No college in the country would put up with a teacher like this for more than a couple of weeks, but we are supposed to believe he is an Associate Professor.
The actors all did a good job with the material they were given. However, the main character is such a self-centered, spoiled man-child that we just can’t like him the way the producers want us to.
We give this movie 3 Stars ***