DRAMA; 1hr 51min
STARRING: Mark Wahlberg, Jessica Lange, John Goodman, Brie Larson
House of cards: Wahlberg
The slipway of compulsive gambling is, to borrow a phrase from AA, no respecter of persons, and certainly not of associate literature professor Jim Bennett (Wahlberg). At $260,000 in debt, Jim is driven “to dance with the devil,” to quote the loan shark (Goodman) with whom he tangles after his wealthy, alienated mother (Lange) announces that she won’t bail him out any more (only to later relent).
Jim could have come off as a cornered animal if he weren’t so abrasive and unrepentant; as it is, there’s a noxious pull to his hard-bitten recklessness. Director Rupert Wyatt (Rise of the Planet of the Apes) and screenwriter William Monahan’s adaptation of Karel Reisz’s 1974 template is a testing ask for Wahlberg, who raps out a repellent, pitiful portrayal of anarchic self-contempt, with full-bodied support from Goodman, Michael Kenneth Williams and Alvin Ing as the kind of men you only come up against on the way down.
Strung out in a seamy LA over an uncertain seven days, The Gambler peaks redemptively in a flurry of pulse-jolting, odds-daring suspense, the likes of which high rollers might very well stake their shirts on.