Imagine Robert Downey Junior’s character of Tony Stark, if you will, as a gambling addict who only feels alive when sitting at a Blackjack table wondering if he’s won or lost. That is what Mark Wahlberg’s character essentially is, a tell it as is, rich brat who tried to make it as a novelist but now instead teaches Shakespeare to students who couldn’t care less.
Surprisingly Wahlberg plays the character well, as his obnoxious character comes through well whether he is at the casino or the University. Normally I wouldn’t associate him with this kind of role, as we mainly see him in action movies or comedies. Here instead he delivers monologues and tense scenes pretty well surprisingly. His character of Jim Bennett starts in an underground casino where after losing a lot of money, he decides to visit Neville (Michael K. Williams) the local gangster for a loan and ends up losing that as well. You would think he would learn, but instead he makes another visit to loan Frank played by a sumo-sized John Goodman. He ends up owing a lot of money to all the wrong people.
To support him through his challenges of winning the money back, we have Brie Larson playing Amy Phillips, one of Jim’s students, who he labels as the only one who shows any signs of brilliance. She provides the role of his conscience essentially, asking him why he does what he does, punishing him when he loses and helping build a backstory to his character.
The characters of Frank and Neville bring some fun to The Gambler – with John Goodman giving a great speech about how everyone wants to be in the ‘Position of Fuck You’. Essentially a point in life where a person has everything they ever need – and when asked to do something they don’t want to they can essentially say ‘Fuck You’. These scenes with the supporting cast, are, unfortunately, few and far between, and we never get the chance to find out more about them other than what we see. It would have been nice to figure out why Frank is such a feared Loan Shark, or why he hates Neville so much since all the bad guys essentially mouth off about each other.
I have to say I enjoyed The Gambler, it was something that was a break from all the action flicks currently out. It was nice to Mark Wahlberg deliver a character that doesn’t have a care in the world and seems to be hell bent on creating a life of misery. The highlights of the movie were definitely the Blackjack scenes, as the camera is used well to edge us into figuring out whether it will make or break his life.