Modern twist on the 70s crime drama starring an impressive Mark Wahlberg
Mark Wahlberg has transcended his boy-rapper roots to become a dependable leading man but, although he's proved adept with lighter roles, he's sometimes struggled to be taken seriously. Reviving Karel Reisz’s 1974 heavyweight drama – which starred James Caan as a literature professor with a gambling addiction – provides ample opportunity for Wahlberg to demonstrate his acting chops.
With the action transposed from New York to LA, Wahlberg serves up award-baiting weight loss to play Jim Bennett - whose well-off family, headed by mother Roberta (Jessica Lange), has left him with self-esteem issues. Bennett regularly gambles and loses in the underworld clubs of LA’s Koreatown; even so, his charisma attracts the interest of literature student Amy (Brie Larson) and threatening father-figure Frank (a formidable John Goodman), while his own worst enemy remains himself.
James Toback’s original screenplay, which owes a debt to Dostoyevsky, gets a neat reworking from William Monahan (The Departed) who manages to create the same existential, anti-heroic tone as the 1974 film. Director Rupert Wyatt, shorn of the CGI bells-and-whistles of his franchise opener Rise of the Planet of the Apes, dials down to demonstrate a strong grasp of a seedy milieu, even though the female roles are as underdeveloped as the theme of male angst suggests.
The Gambler is a remake that effectively updates a subtle yet nihilistic story; Wyatt and Monahan stick to their mean-spirited guns and offer up a sour view of addiction and the havoc it wreaks. Wahlberg, so often wasted in pumped-up fare such as Pain & Gain or Transformers: Age of Extinction, is exceptional – pulling off a measured portrait of a man tortuously plumbing the depths of his character, his sense of self dictated by the roll of the dice.
General release from Fri 23 Jan.