Daily | Rupert Wyatt’s THE GAMBLER

The Gambler

Mark Wahlberg in ‘The Gambler’

“There’s enough swaggering cynicism for three pictures but barely enough soul to sustain even one in Rupert Wyatt’s The Gambler, a stylish, energetic but disappointingly glib remake of Karel Reisz’s still-potent 1974 drama of the same title,” begins Justin Chang in Variety. “Mark Wahlberg tears into one of his meatiest roles as an English professor drowning in a sea of blackjack debts and self-destructive impulses, a born risk-taker who’s aptly described as everything from ‘the kind of guy that likes to lose’ to ‘the world’s stupidest asshole.’ But it’s that surfeit of macho attitude in William Monahan’s script that keeps Wahlberg from coming anywhere near James Caan’s sly brilliance in the earlier film, making this a movie of slick, surface-level pleasures that’s unpersuasive at its core.”

“Wyatt, who helmed the unexpectedly solid Rise of the Planet of the Apes reboot, directs with less reckless abandon than his protagonist but a similar lack of angst,” finds Michael Nordine at Indiewire. “For all the hundreds of thousands of dollars being thrown around, The Gambler is much closer to a friendly game of poker with some loquacious, quick-witted friends than a glimpse at the gambling world’s dark underbelly.”

“Wyatt emphasizes a neo-noir tone that values tough-guy talk and brooding inertia over plot twists,” writes Tim Grierson for Screen Daily. “Consequently, Jim mostly hangs out from scene to scene, opening up to Amy or dealing with underground associates who are benevolent (John Goodman’s perfectly sardonic Frank) or malicious (Michael Kenneth Williams’s slithering Neville). There are no femme fatales or traditional villains in this film, but everyone we meet has a rough exterior, and William Monahan’s script plays up the characters’ hardboiled qualities, with conversations ranging from the philosophical to the satiric. Not unlike a meta-thriller such as The Counselor, The Gambler dresses up in genre clothes but then plays around, stretching the fabric until it rips.”

“In nearly every scene, Wahlberg carries off the central role with what could be called determined elan,” writes the Hollywood Reporter‘s Todd McCarthy. “Bluntly, sometimes viciously frank, Jim spares no one in his circle, beginning with himself.”

“This movie plays like a Mark Wahlberg vanity vehicle,” finds Anne Thompson. “It serves to reveal the actor’s weaknesses. When cast exactly right in muscular, working class roles—The Departed and The Fighter come to mind—Wahlberg can deliver. But he is not professorial material. No matter how hard he tries.”

More from Drew McWeeney at HitFix. The Gambler‘s premiered at AFI Fest and opens on December 19.

Update, 11/12: “If just for the bizarre sequence where Wahlberg throws himself at henchmen while yelling in a Koreatown nail salon, The Gambler justifies its journey to a present day remake in Wyatt’s hands,” writes Charlie Schmidlin at the Playlist. “It’s a flawed, well-shot throwback that feels swayed by studio interference, full of performances serving a script that limits their efforts to one-liners. But even when that one-liner comes from a teaching Wahlberg about his unique theory on Albert Camus’s The Stranger, the actor commits enough to a new shade of role for us to see where he travels with it.”

Update, 11/13: “No matter how finely feathered the hair or slim and trim the figure, Wahlberg is simply one of the glossy mistakes Wyatt’s film trips over,” writes Nicholas Bell for Ioncinema. “The stakes are never high enough for the smoothly packaged Jim Bennett, a character that ended with his face viciously slashed by a prostitute in the first film. The baddies are comically, even flaccidly portrayed, with John Goodman and Michael Kenneth Williams both declawed. As a portrait of addiction, Toback’s original treatment, as plainly rudimentary as it was back in 1974, at least gave us a pathetically convincing portrayal.”

Update, 11/23: “This spiral of self-imposed despair feels like part three of a trilogy of American financial darkness after Killing Them Softly and The Counsellor,” writes Jordan Hoffman for the Guardian. “The Gambler isn’t quite so audience-unfriendly, but those looking for a typical Wahlberg thriller might come away disappointed. Others looking for a less sure bet might reap the rewards.”

Update, 12/9: Margy Rochlin talks with Wahlberg and James Caan for the New York Times.

Updates, 12/27: For the New York TimesManohla Dargis, “almost everything that makes the original so pleasurably idiosyncratic, from its daft ideas to the peekaboo bear rug spread over Mr. Caan’s often-bared chest, has been expunged from the remake.”

“In the original,” writes Steve Macfarlane at Slant, “James Caan’s Alex Freed stood at the nexus of the immigrant and bourgeois experiences, his every desperate maneuver underwritten by a barely concealed resentment of both his own Jewishness and his family’s money. Wyatt’s rendition—in which the antihero is renamed, for whatever reason, as ‘Jimmy Bennett’—merely appears in the throes of existential boredom, a rich kid grown up dissatisfied with his gilded lot in life. Industry pressers would suggest Bennett has been the most demanding role of Mark Wahlberg’s career, but look past the actor’s diet-desiccated abs and all you’ll see him bring to the table is the exact persona that made him a movie star in the first place: a bro with a cinderblock-sized chip on his shoulder, clawing his way out from everyone else’s expectations one hotheaded diatribe at a time.”

But the Voice‘s Stephanie Zacharek finds that Wyatt “brings some bristly, swaggering energy to the thing, and that in turn may have loosened Wahlberg up: He’s both more intense and freer than he’s been in years.”

More from A.A. Dowd (AV Club, B-), Veronika Ferdman (In Review Online), Odie Henderson (, 2/4), Robert Horton (Herald), Jonathan Kiefer (SF Weekly), Joshua Rothkopf (Time Out New York, 3/5) and Marc Savlov (Austin Chronicle, 3/5).

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