The Gambler
Director: Rupert Wyatt
Starring: Mark Wahlberg, Jessica Lange, John Goodman
111 mins; Class 15;
KRS Releasing Ltd

Mark Wahlberg stars as Jim Bennett, an English professor and the titular gambler whose high-risk plays leave him in substantial debt both with Lee (Alvin Ing), the Korean operator of an underground gambling ring, and Neville (Michael Kenneth Williams), a local gangster.

Turning to his wealthy mother (Jessica Lange) for help, Bennett only succeeds in making things worse for himself, while at the same time embarking on a relationship with a student (Brie Larson). With seven days to pay off his ever-mounting debt, Bennett must use his gambling nous to get him out of this fix.

Based on the successful 1974 film of the same name, The Gambler is a solidly acted and directed piece that somehow can’t decide what kind of film it is – whether a character study, an examination of the severe addiction caused by gambling, or ultimately a crime caper.

It starts off as the first, before segueing into the latter with no sign of the middle one at all. As embodied by Wahlberg, this unruly charismatic professor by day and consummate gambler by night is truly addicted and can’t walk away from the game, despite getting himself into serious trouble.

Solidly acted and directed

Moreover, the film can’t seem to decide whether Bennett is a hero or anti-hero. To its credit, the film doesn’t pass judgement on him, yet it is difficult not to. There is certainly something admirable about the character’s couldn’t-care-less attitude in the face of his predicament and the violent harassment he receives from Lee and Neville’s goons.

The scenes of his unorthodox methods of teaching – including embarrassing his students – are truly enjoyable; while the relationship with Amy reveals his softer side.

On the other hand, Bennett’s unabashed use of his mother’s money and his active participation in the corruption of a young athlete and student of his to further his scheme paint Bennett as a pretty corrupt character himself, despite his apparent misgivings in both cases.

It helps little that the film spends no time examining the psychological or addictive aspects of gambling as Bennett takes one foolhardy decision after another.

At one point in the film the tone switches from character study to crime caper as Bennett pits his enemies against one another with the help of a warm-hearted loan shark Frank (an excellent John Goodman).

Furthermore, despite the solid performances by Williams as the smooth-talking Neville and Ing as the stoical Lee, neither of the two comes across as truly dangerous.