The Gambler, film review: Mark Wahlberg isn't credible as Shakespeare-quoting anti-hero

(15) Rupert Wyatt, 111 mins Starring: Mark Wahlberg, John Goodman, Brie Larson, Michael K Williams, Jessica Lange
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A remake of the 1974 Karel Reisz film, itself adapted from Fyodor Dostoyevsky's 1867 short novel, this is a misconceived and strangely cast affair that can't work out its own attitude toward its main character.

Jim Bennett (Mark Wahlberg) is a once promising novelist turned English literature professor with a massive gambling addiction. He is from a wealthy background and has no obvious problems but he is full of self-loathing and "loves to lose".

In 1970s US cinema, the Easy Riders Raging Bulls era, it was easier to depict characters who turned conventional ideas of movie heroes on their head. The problem here is that Wahlberg, even "when he is dancing with the devil for some unspecified reason," never sheds his persona as the best-looking, smartest and most charismatic figure in the movie. He gives a star performance when far darker, more nuanced, character-style acting is called for as the "scumbag gambler drowning in shit". He seems so unconcerned by his mounting debts himself that it is very hard for us to care about his predicament either.

The director Rupert Wyatt is good at stoking up the atmosphere when he shows Bennett roaming around town from Korean-owned casinos to bath houses, where an enormously blubbery loan shark played by John Goodman hold court. Music is used inventively (although Pulp's "Common People" seems a little incongruous), and there's a striking, Medea-like cameo from Jessica Lange as Bennett's loving, ruthless mother, but the dialogue is horribly self- conscious. As for Wahlberg himself, he simply isn't credible as the film's Shakespeare-quoting anti-hero.