The Gambler (4 stars)

The Gambler

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.

The Gambler | Official Red Band Teaser

The Gambler

  • 4 stars
  • 2014
  • US
  • 1h 51min
  • 15
  • Directed by: Rupert Wyatt
  • Cast: Mark Wahlberg, Jessica Lange, Brie Larson, John Goodman
  • UK release: 23 January 2015

Jim (Wahlberg) is a literature professor with a gambling addiction, whose debts get him the attention of threatening bookie Frank (Goodman). Effective remake of James Toback's 1974 original with an exceptional turn from Wahlberg, although the female roles (including Lange as Jim's icy mother) are underdeveloped.