Wednesday, January 7, 2015
The Gambler 
CNS/USCCB (J. Mulderig) review
ChicagoTribune (R. Moore) review
RogerEbert.com (O. Henderson) review
AVClub (A.A. Dowd) review
Anyone who's played a little Blackjack in his/her life (HOPEFULLY for FAR, FAR LOWER STAKES THAN IN THIS FILM) will find the opening sequence in The Gambler  (directed by Rupert Wyatt, screenplay by William Monahan based on the screenplay for the 1974 film by James Toback) PAINFUL:
Still looking somewhat rich, if disheveled, 30-something Jim Bennett (played by a surprising and impressive Mark Wahlberg) walks into a late night seaside Southern California illegal gambling establishment with a wad of big bills, asks for several tens of thousands of dollars of chips, gets them, proceeds to a blackjack table, places a $10,000 chip on the table and ... wins. Then, HE KEEPS THE $10,000 there along with his $10,000 winnings and plays again ... and ... wins again. Then keeping his bet and his winnings on the table again (now up to $40,000 (!)) ... and ... dealer looking toward his supervisor for advice (who nods to give the okay) ... plays again ... and ... wins again. KEEPING NOW $80,000 on the table he asks to play again ... gets his cards and ... loses it all. A few hands later, he's LOST EVERYTHING that he's come to the Establishment with.
OMG ... this guy is insane. There's NO "SYSTEM" to his playing. HE JUST "PLAYS" UNTIL HE LOSES _EVERYTHING_.
And to make the point, after insulting a smiling, immaculately dressed, shaking-his-head (at Bennett's recklessness) African-American loan-shark named Neville Baraka (played by Michael Kenneth Williams) and after being reminded by the illegal gambling establishment's owner "Lee" (played with magnificent understated "east Asian mafia fashion" by Alvin Ing) that Bennett owes the Establishment $240K and "someday" (soon ...) he's gonna have to pay that back, Bennett goes back to said still smiling, still-shaking-his-head loan-shark to loan him $50,000. Now grinning-from-ear-to-ear over the insanity of it all, Baraka explains to him that he'd expect full payment plus 2 points ($20,000) in a week. Bennett agrees, takes the $50,000 and proceeds to lose those $50,000 IN EXACTLY THE SAME WAY THAT HE LOST THE $50K that he walked-in with.
Honestly WT(F) ?? Honestly, WHO PLAYS LIKE THIS? An "ADDICT"? No, someone with a death wish. But why?
Well that's the rest of the film.
Now (of course) there are people (enablers??) who despite hating him / fearing him / fearing what his "problem/predicament" could DO TO THEM remain ARGUABLY FASCINATED by him (or just want to "help" him) -- his mother (played by Jessica Lange), a student of his (played by Brie Larson) and a THIRD "underworld figure" (played by John Goodman).
But can one really help someone who seems to be dead set on dying (and apparently insisting on doing so in "dramatic fashion")? The police know a similar phenomenon quite well: "Suicide by cop..."
This all said, there's ANOTHER MORE "STRUCTURAL" DILEMMA: This is a "Hollywood movie" after all and "Hollywood" prefers that its films "end well." So what does Hollywood / the filmmakers do with a story like this? Do the filmmakers THEMSELVES pull their lead character out of his predicament ... or ... do they allow the film to run its more natural / inevitable course a la Nicolas Cage in Leaving Las Vegas ?
I'm not going to tell you ;-) ... but in any case this is a film that DEMANDS to be discussed after it's over. And in that sense, Great job!
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