Mark Wahlberg stars as Jim Bennett, a downtrodden prodigy who gave up on his career as an author and now teaches English at a Los Angeles college. As the film unravels we learn that Jim is in debt to a number of Korean mobsters and a loan shark named Neville (played by Michael K. Williams) because of his gambling and gets no help from another loan shark played by John Goodman. Jim then convinces his Mother to give him enough money to settle his debts, but instead he heads to Vegas where he loses every penny. Only the names have been changed in this remake of the 1974 classic directed by Karel Weisz and starring James Caan.
Overall, the majority of critics believed it to be very unnecessary to remake the Gambler. Many critics, and fans alike, hold so much affection for the original that it was always going to be very difficult to improve on the original outing. Karel Reisz, who’s debut ‘Saturday Night and Sunday Morning’ is an absolute masterpiece, did such a stellar job with the Gambler, as did James Caan I n the lead role (named Axel Freed in this version).
Perhaps the most loved aspect of the original film is the honesty of the script. James Toback’s first script was heavily based on his time as an English teacher and the demons he battled with his gambling addictions. The audience recognised this in James Caan’s portrayal of the character and understood his pain. Axel wasn’t necessarily a bad guy, he’d just fallen down a bad path that he was desperately trying to get out from. In contrast, Wahlberg’s Bennett comes across as a spoiled, self-entitled whiner who deserves all the bad karma coming his way.
A key factor for any keen gambler is to keep their head and remember their strategy, even with games like multi-tabling or speed poker that requires the player to make rapid fire decisions. Jim Bennett doesn’t have these characteristics for most of the film, instead he is reckless with his wagers in the hope of a big, instant win that doesn’t come. Nothing leaves a sour taste in the mouth of a movie goer more than a character who attempts to take shortcuts. It’s the formula of a great movie villain, but not a protagonist.
For all the negative reviews of the film, the Gambler isn’t in anyway bad when considered in solidarity. The script is very well written by William Monahan, best known for writing the Martin Scorsese film The Departed’. Rupert Wyatt is a very competent director who along with cinematographer (Grieg Fraser of Zero Dark Thirty) creates the most stunning blackjack sequences you’ll see outside of a James Bond movie and show off the many great sights of downtown Los Angeles. Plus, you know you’ll always get the best performances out of the likes of Jessica Lange and John Goodman. It doesn’t matter how honest the intentions were, critics love the original Gambler movie too much to care about a remake.