The Gambler

“I can’t figure out how to start this one. But I’m out of Candy Crush lives on FB and mobile, and I’ve told myself that the longer I procrastinate, the more of Transformers Age of Extinction (which is playing in the background) I’ll have to watch.

I got to see this as an Advance earlier this week, and as an added bonus, there was a Q&A with director Rupert Wyatt following. That was actually very helpful in putting some of the movie into perspective. Not sure if it made me like it any better, but at least I understood some of the reasoning behind things.

The Gambler stars a superb Mark Wahlberg as our titular Gambler. Gambler by night, literature professor by day. He gets in a little over his head and finds himself on a deadline fending off loan sharks. I adore Wahlberg and thought he did a spectacular job leading this film with his understated charm, but I couldn’t really sympathize with his character, which kept me from really getting into the film.

The problem for me is that I couldn’t rationalize his behavior. In the opening scene, he quickly gambles away thousands of dollars in a seemingly reckless manner. Then he goes and borrows more. Lather. Rinse. Repeat. Watching him gamble, my brain is doing the math. Okay, you won, so put aside half of that, and then. Oh you’re doubling down. Whew you won. NOW, put aside what you owe your bookie and just bet the rest. And we’re doubling down again. Your funeral, buddy.

Now, I get that if he played the way that I do, we wouldn’t have a movie. I’m often the first one to make that counter argument when people complain about films (see also: Interstellar). I just couldn’t get past it this time. The only thing I could do to go along for the ride is to recognize it as an addiction, a compulsion he can’t really help and I can’t fully understand.

However, in the Q&A following the film, Wyatt was adamant that this film was not about addiction. The original on which it was loosely based was, but this story was different. It was about trying to achieve redemption by hitting bottom. I further struggled with that concept. I like to play things safe. Keep a little cushion I can always fall back on if things get too tough. Wahlberg’s gambler pushed himself to the point where on the flip of a coin (not literally, though it might as well have been), he’d either be dead or completely free. The tagline for the film further drives this point home: “”The only way out is all in””. It makes sense, but it’s not a way that I want to live my life.

Besides Wahlberg, there were some other great performances: Brie Larson (who seems to have grown up beautifully since the last films I saw her in, which were actually kinda recent), John Goodman, Jessica Lange. I just wish I could have enjoyed the action unfolding more so that I could fully appreciate their performances.

The Gambler – \m/ \m/”

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