Wahlberg stars as Jim Bennett, a brilliant professor leading a secret double life as a high-stakes gambler. When Jim is forced to borrow money from a notorious gangster, he places the lives of those he loves in mortal danger. With time running out, he must enter the criminal underworld and risk everything to keep from losing it all. Written for the screen by Academy Award-winner William Monahan (The Departed).
The director of 'Rise of the Planet of the Apes' (Rupert Wyatt) and the writer of 'The Departed' (William Monahan) thought it was time to remake the 1974 film 'The Gambler' that starred James Caan and Paul Sorvino. It's not a terrible remake by any means, but the lack of character development and its struggle to keep the tension throughout the entire picture will leave you a little less than satisfied when you finish watching the film. While there are enough similarities and homages to the original movie present here, this new remake starring Mark Wahlberg, Jessica Lange, Brie Larson, and John Goodman can stand on its own.
As the film starts with a great deal of suspense and intrigue, the tension doesn't keep going up, but instead drops off like a steep rollercoaster, right through the climax of the film. It's unfortunate, because we've seen these gambling thrillers keep the momentum coming. Wahlberg plays Jim Bennett, a literature professor who is excellent at his job. When Bennett is done teaching, you can almost always find him in an underground casino, betting big and winning big. It's clear that addiction and money run all aspects of Bennett's life, but fortunately for him, he is fairly lucky a good amount of the time.
Well, that is until he is not so lucky and ends up owing a quarter of a million to the guy who runs the underground gambling ring, as well as thousands of dollars to a couple of loan sharks, one of which is played by John Goodman. Bennet's mother (Jessica Lange) bails him out for the last time and gives him the money to pay off all his debts, but Bennett being Bennett cannot control his addiction, and ends up betting it all, which doesn't have a good outcome. Given a week to pay off all the debts or lose his life, Bennett enlists the help in a couple of students to throw sports games and cheat at gambling to help save his life.
This sounds like a good setup and I feel like somewhere down the line there was a better script, but perhaps some studio executives stepped in to tone the film down from what it truly could have been. Whalberg does a good job as Bennett, as we can see his struggle with his gambling addiction, but that's pretty much it for this character. There is no attention paid to his teaching career or even his taboo relationship with one of his students, other than to seem to fill time in the movie. It's all addiction and gambling to this character. The rest can be said for the rest of the characters in the film, who really have only one trait and no deep meaning. Sure, Goodman steals the show in the few moments he has, but it's nothing compared to his previous work.
Perhaps the best performance here is that of Jessica Lange who has just about had it with her son and his degenerate gambling problem. Every time she's on screen, she owns it. Michael Kenneth Williams shows up from time to time, but his character is never really given any time to shine. All of this leads up to a fairly bland and predictable ending that sizzles out instead of hitting hard with a bang. It's a decent remake, but this gambling thriller could have used a bit more suspense for me to go all in.
'The Gambler' comes with a great 1080p HD transfer presented in 2.40:1 aspect ratio. This digitally shot film looks crisp and clean for the most part, but it has a couple of minor issues. Detail is always vivid and sharp throughout with excellent closeups that reveal individual hairs, beads of sweat, and makeup blemishes quite nicely. The detail at the casinos and gambling tables looks amazing too with the green felt looking crisp and the lines in the playing cards showing up well.
Colors are well-balanced and saturated, however most of the film takes place in rather lower-lit settings, so don't expect a ton of bright popping colors throughout the entire film. One of the issues here is with the black levels. They don't seem to be that deep or inky anywhere, which caused a few problems. Skin tones though looked natural. Besides the black levels being less than stellar, there were really no issues with any banding or aliasing, leaving this video presentation with solid marks.
This release comes with an excellent lossless DTS-HD 5.1 audio mix and full immerses you into this underground gambling world. I wouldn't go as far as to say this is an overly loud action film with a lot of bass. In fact, the only real rumble you will feel or hear comes when the thunderstorms pop up. Sound effects though are robust and lively throughout the film and sound realistic. The shuffling of the playing cards, the roll of the roulette ball, and vehicles driving by all sound great and have some excellent directionality.
The surround speakers emit these sounds often and with a smooth flow. Dialogue is always crystal clear and easy to follow, and free of any pops, cracks, shrills, and hiss. The score and soundtrack always adds to the suspense in each scene and never drowns out any of the sound effects or dialogue. The LFE is excellent and the dynamic range is wide. I wouldn't compare this to a big action movie with robots in it, but for what it is, this audio presentation gets the job done and then some.
Mr. Self Destruct: Inside 'The Gambler' (HD, 15 Mins.) - This is a decent extra that looks at the original film and the differences in the new remake. The characters, actors, scripts, and filming process are all given a small amount of time here with some good interviews with the cast and crew.
Dark Before Dawn: The Descent of 'The Gambler' (HD, 17 Mins.) - A look at the technical side of the production, including scouting locations, the detail of the big sets, building the casino, and the overall look of the film.
Changing the Game: Adaptation (HD, 9 Mins.) - This is a great extra where the cast and crew talk more in detail about the original film and how it differs from this new remake.
In the City: Locations (HD, 10 Mins.) - A detailed look at all the sets and real locations in the film.
Dressing the Players: Costume Design (HD, 8 Mins.) - This extra features all the costumes in the film.
Deleted Scenes (HD, 26 Mins.) - Some extended scenes of Wahlberg teaching his students and a few other deleted scenes that were best left on the cutting room floor.
This remake of 'The Gambler' has enough entertainment and fun to stand on its own from the original, but that's as far it can go. If you're looking for a deep character study and a truly suspenseful movie, this is not the film you were hoping for. It's unfortunate, because this had so much potential. The video and audio aspects are both great, and the extras are in fact surprisingly good and worth watching. Since the film itself is more or less a letdown, rent it first before laying it all on the line.