Are you all in? This is a question that the script misconstrues throughout the film and never actually answers. Rupert Wyatt’s (Rise of the Planet of the Apes) newest film dives into the world of underground gambling in the neon lights of Los Angeles and hits close to home for me personally. I lived in Las Vegas for a few years and saw what gambling can do to individuals and what situations can arise after throwing away every penny from one’s checking account. It’s a real world concern and addiction that most people do not really think about until they spend some serious time in the bleak and dingy casino atmosphere. Mark Wahlberg (The Fighter, Lone Survivor) plays the role of Jim Bennett, the forty something spoiled rich boy that has an expensive habit, losing his family’s inheritance at the blackjack table. Wahlberg brings his prevalent arrogance in yet another role and plays an unconvincing college Literature professor. I didn’t really buy the role from the beginning, as a teacher driving around in a BMW was as ridiculous as the script. I would have to admit I never saw the original film with James Caan, but have heard it has a much better performance and is an overall better film.
With the recent death of his grandfather (George Kennedy), Jim is on a one-way street of destruction that leads him into the hands of loans sharks and kingpins. Why would a man with a considerable amount of debt put himself further in the “hole” with the continuation of bad decisions? That question is never really answered and gives the audience anxiety aligned with continuous sighs and irritation from the holes in the plot. At times it seems that Wahlberg is playing himself in the egotistical manner that most critics have pointed out over the past twenty years. The enjoyable aspect of this film was the supporting cast of Neville-Michael K. Williams (Boardwalk Empire, The Wire), Roberta-Jessica Lange (American Horror Story), Frank-John Goodman (Roseanne, The Big Lebowski), and the always alluring and adorable love interest Amy-Brie Larson (21 Jump Street, Don Jon). Lange plays Jim’s affluent and passionate tennis playing mother that has pulled her son out of this dark addiction more times than one. As Jim literally throws away thousands of dollars at the table, borrows money from kingpins, and hurts many people along the way, it seems as though it’s a sad cry for help. As most mothers would help out their children in a time of distress, Roberta let’s her son “borrow” over two hundred thousand dollars to pay off the life or death debts he had accrued over the past week. Of course, Jim doesn’t actually pay off the debt and is really trying to play god in this movie by going “all in”, which puts himself and his family at death’s backdoor. Frank and Neville really play their parts as intimidating loan sharks who loan money out which allow Walhlberg’s character to continue in the downward spiral, busting up his face along the way. Goodman was quite comedic in this role and there are similarities to his Big Lebowski character and even Tony Soprano with his “fuck you” life motto. Meaning, you make enough money to get ahead and any life dilemma that comes your way, such as an angry boss, psychotic girlfriend, etc give them the big middle finger.
The onscreen romance between Amy Phillips and Jim Bennett was extremely lackluster. Their chemistry fell flat and was unconvincing for many reasons. One was that Amy was one of Mr. Bennett’s students and he called her out in class to make a point, which was more floundering than sincere. The other was the fact that Amy knew Jim’s real identity as a gambling risk-seeker instead of the artificial Literature professor. There were many sequences throughout the 112 minutes that questioned Amy’s fascination with Mr. Bennett, and how she could be captivated with someone so barren and disconnected. If Jim was indeed a novelist and cared for anyone beside himself he would have made an effort to pay his dues, focus on his career, and cut his ties to the gambling world. That wasn’t the case and after being beaten to a bloody pulp a few times, his life on the line, he had to finally make the right choice. One of Jim’s non-coherent students named Lamar (Anthony Kelley) is a star basketball player that is far from succeeding in the classroom, and is looking to drop the books for a career in the NBA. This gives Jim the idea to use the susceptible student to his advantage, to get rid of his lingering debts by throwing the game, and putting money back in Neville’s pockets. Will Jim come out on top and erase all the bad money choices he made in the week prior? You will have to check out the film and answer that for yourself, but I will say that Jim comes full circle with his decisions and overcomes the underlying self-issues he had created for himself.
For the most part, this wasn’t a terrible film, but wasn’t phenomenal either. It had potential to be something greater, but fell short with casting and script. I also think that instead of re-making the movie and using a generic title like The Gambler, director Rupert Wyatt and screenwriter William Monahan could have gone a different route that would have been more beneficial come Oscar time. The supporting cast really made this movie substantial and Mark Wahlberg played it safe with the normal typecasting we have seen over and over again. The camera work and score seemed like a cheap rip-off of a Martin Scorsese film and I wish The Rolling Stones “Gimme Shelter” would finally get retired to an old dusty bookshelf.
Rated R for: Language, Violence, and Sexual Content.
Run time: 112 minutes
After Credits Scene: No
Starring: Mark Wahlberg, Jessica Lange, Brie Larson, Michael K. Williams, and John Goodman
Director: Rupert Wyatt
Out of 5 Nerdskulls
Story: 2.5/ Acting: 2.5 / Directing: 2 / Visuals: 2.5
OVERALL: 2.5 out of 5 Nerdskulls
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