The Gambler

The Gambler ★★

For the last two New Year's Eves, I've gone to my local cinema-grill for dinner and a flick. Both times, I saw a movie starring someone from The Departed as a self-destructive professional with a serious addiction problem. Last year it was The Wolf of Wall Street. This time it was The Gambler. All things being equal, last year's movie was quite a bit better.

Here, Mark Wahlberg plays Jim Bennett, a college English professor who gives condescending diatribes to his students by day. By night, he gambles away huge sums of borrowed money - more than he can ever hope to repay. What follows is a series of the proverbial "Stealing from Peter to pay Paul" - only with loan sharks.

Personally, I had kind of a hard time finding anything in Jim Bennett with which to identify. Wahlberg does such a thorough job of creating this desperate character, that the addict's failure seems so likely that it becomes difficult to even care if he ever wins a fortune, loses everything, or finally shakes that monkey off his back.

The style was kind of weird - almost every scene was plain to the point of being undistinguishable from print advertising. The only moments of genuine style come in the form of some soft-focus establishing shots used as transitions between scenes. The effect is reminiscent of the scene-changes in Punch Drunk Love. There's also a kind of flashy scene near the end where a character runs and runs and runs at sunrise in the city. That one scene felt like it was beholden to Michael Mann's work. Unfortunately, the scenes immediately before and after it were just as blase as most everything that came before. Frankly, this movie just wasn't that great. If you really have a hankering for a movie about games of chance, there are dozens of better ones out there. Odds are, it won't be hard to find one.

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