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The Gambler: Wahlberg fails to live up to James Caan’s 1974 performance

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James Caan was nominated for a Golden Globe for his performance in the 1974 gambling classic, The Gambler (Karel Reisz), but Mark Wahlberg is unlikely to enjoy the same honour after playing the same character in the 2014 remake.


While visually very slick, the updated version of the James Toback scripted 1974 film fails to convince – not least because Wahlberg seems more than a little overstretched. The star of Ted plays university professor and novelist Jim Bennet, who has a serious penchant for gambling.
After losing a sizeable sum at blackjack and becoming indebted to some rather shady characters – and losing the money his mother gave him to pay them off – Bennet convinces one of his students to throw a high stakes basketball game.
Fans of the original may be intrigued to see how director Rupert Wyatt goes about transposing the 70s-style film to a 21st century setting, but the result is underwhelming. A big problem is the anachronistic feel of the film; those seeking the thrill of gambling in 2014 are far more likely to find it online, playing the likes of blackjack, poker or European roulette from the comfort of their own home.
The film tries to echo the great protracted conversation scenes of the original film – and many other classic 70s movies – and Wyatt’s lingering camera does enjoy at least some success in building up tension.
There’s no denying the 2014 adaptation captures something of the allure and buzz of betting, but it is Wahlberg’s somewhat egotistical performance, along with a rather silly plotline, that might have us reaching instead for the James Caan version – although there are a handful of amusing jokes about the film industry to be savored.
While the gambling scenes are certainly passable and at times exciting, the contrasting sections set in the university are much less successful. Bennet bleats to his students about the nature of genius, but both the script and acting on display suggest that there isn’t a great deal of it about, in front of or behind the camera. Amy, one of Bennet’s students played the delightful Brie Larson, is taken by her professor, but her own supposed extreme talent for words fails to materialise in any meaningful way.
Wyatt is unlikely to enjoy many accolades here, and fails to demonstrate the flair for filmmaking he exhibited in the 2008 prison break thriller The Escapist. The edgy excitement required for a good gambling movie was far more apparent in that film.
Those seeking a more authentic look at the world of gambling will find more to enjoy in Cann’s crackling portrait of a man on the edge, based largely on screenwriter Toback’s own life. Both in terms of story, dialogue and style, the 1974 film is a very different fish to the strutting Wyatt update. Given the success of the original The Gambler and a number of later films, Toback’s creative gambles have certainly paid off – unlike those of Rupert Wyatt, who stuck when he should have twisted.



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