December 29, 2014

Movie Review: The Gambler (2014)

Let's get one thing out of the way right up front, if nothing else The Gambler gave me one thing I can go the rest of my life without seeing again, and that is John Goodman without a shirt on. I love the guy, but please, shirts on from now on. OK? Thank you. As for the movie itself? Meh. I kind of liked some of the speech making and the way things were worded, but it was not always a good flow and often seemed to be rather self aware of what it was trying to do rather then letting it be. Don't get me wrong, I enjoy some stylized speeches and dialogue, but it needs to be off the movie rather than the movie itself. Not sure I made sense there, but I think you understand.

Until very recently I was unaware that this was a remake of a 1974 James Caan film, or if its ties to a Dostoyevsky novella. Be that as it may, this movie is far from perfect and seems to want to give star (and producer) Mark Wahlberg something meaty to work with, but seems to just feel like someone found a thesaurus. Still, while not fan of the movie, it is slickly directed by Rupert Wyatt, who impressed a couple years back with Rise of the Planet of the Apes.

I am still trying to put my finger on it, but this movie just doesn't really sit well with me. Our central character is not so much a hero figure as much as simply the protagonist. He is not particularly likable, and we do not really get much of a story on him. Like other movies I have seen lately, it is a bit of a character study that forgot the study part.

Wahlberg tries to make Jim Bennett interesting, but it just fails to take hold. I found I just did not care. Bennett is a bored rich kid with self destructive tendencies and a borderline sociopathic personality. That certainly does seem like an interesting character to make a study of, but it never happens. We just watch him wander around getting himself deeper into his mess. It doesn't help that the potential means for his redemption disappears for a large chunk of the movie (a similar thing happened with The Equalizer). I am reminded a little of Into the Wild, which was about another character I did not care for.

No, not a bad movie, but like so many wide releases of late, terribly mediocre. It has moments of interest, but it never pays off on them. It skates by doing as little as possible. You can have Wahlberg's Bennett give speeches about genius and the futility with which everyone else operates, but you cannot make me care about him without giving some sort of reason to. No, he doesn't have to be a nice guy, but give us something to grab on to. It needs more than a single childhood flashback to him swimming. It has no bearing on anything and feels like something they forgot to snip out when they took out the study part of this character study.

So, what it comes down to is we have a movie about a gambler/literature professor who says he isn't a gambler, gets into debt with the wrong people and doesn't seem to have any interest in getting out. It feels incomplete as a story and purposely misguided by self aware dialogue. Interesting in fits and spurts, but lacking as a whole.

Not Recommended.

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