'The Gambler': What the Critics Are Saying

Mark Wahlberg, John Goodman, Brie Larson, Michael Kenneth Williams and Jessica Lange star in a remake of the 1974 crime drama

The Gambler bets on Mark Wahlberg to produce and star in a remake of the 1974 James Caan-starrer about a college professor with a gaming habit. Directed by Rupert Wyatt and written by William Monahan (with original screenwriter James Toback credited as an executive producer), the crime drama — retooled with an existential angle — also features John Goodman, Brie Larson, Michael Kenneth Williams, Jessica Lange, Alvin Ing and Anthony Kelley.

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See what top critics are saying about The Gambler:

The Hollywood Reporter's Todd McCarthy calls it "a slick and efficient remake of the superior 1974 original, ... [yet] not quite the full-on downer that the original was," as Wyatt and Monahan "have contrived a resolution that is rather more audience-friendly than the bloodily bleak one director Karel Reisz served up in the original." The cast is composed of "well etched" supporting roles of Goodman, Lange, Larson, Kelley and Williams, and "in nearly every scene, Wahlberg carries off the central role with what could be called determined elan. Bluntly, sometimes viciously frank, Jim spares no one in his circle, beginning with himself, and his uncensored talk with his chosen students stands in sharp contrast with his limited ability to communicate clearly with his grandfather and mother. His gambling compulsion goes beyond addiction into something congenital; the causes behind it are not precisely spelled out but clearly have to do with severe family issues and emotional warp. All the same, Jim remains to some extent an unreachable character, someone you pity or shake your head over rather than empathize with."

The New York Times' Manohla Dargis writes, "Almost everything that makes the original so pleasurably idiosyncratic, from its daft ideas to the peekaboo bear rug spread over Caan’s often-bared chest, has been expunged from the remake. ... Wyatt’s direction is smooth, although he’s more confident, and the movie more convincing, when he goes for baroque with the story’s excesses, like cutting loose with the cartoonish villains played by Ing, Lange, Williams and Goodman." However, "Wahlberg handles the movie’s streaming words like the rapper he once was, and he sometimes cocks an eyebrow as if acknowledging the absurdity of it all. Mostly, his character is sad, sincere and heavy, and his performance is, too. ... What’s mostly missing from The Gambler is a sense of why Jim is so insistent on squandering his money, privilege and patrimony." Additionally, "Larson holds your eyes and interest, but she’s as ornamental as the stick figure played by Lauren Hutton in the 1974 film."

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The Guardian's Jordan Hoffman asserts, "If it weren't for Wahlberg’s dynamite performance and the strangeness of the dialogue, The Gambler would have you muttering: 'You jerk, just OD on sleeping pills and shaddap already!' ... [But] this spiral of self-imposed despair feels like part three of a trilogy of American financial darkness after Killing Them Softly and The Counselor. The Gambler isn’t quite so audience-unfriendly, but those looking for a typical Wahlberg thriller might come away disappointed. Others looking for a less sure bet might reap the rewards." Also, "Goodman’s extended cameo can sit alongside Ned Beatty’s in Network, and his scenes are some of the most exhilarating you’ll see in a movie this year."

Los Angeles Times' Mark Olsen notes, "Wyatt, Monahan and Wahlberg never seem quite settled on what they want to say with the character or the story, so the film feels marked not by ambiguity but uncertainty." Additionally, "scenes of Wahlberg lecturing his students on literature and life, talent and failure are spirited and fun but feel tacked-on and a tad indulgent." Meanwhile, "Lange brings out a playfulness from Wahlberg, an undertone of brattiness, that is missing from the deflated weariness of the rest of his performance," and "Larson's bright presence pushes to the edges of the role, only underscoring the ways in which it is underwritten."

USA Today's Claudia Puig gives it one-and-a-half stars out of four, as it's "a hollow, overwrought and glibly cynical remake." Wahlberg's Bennett "is so self-absorbed, unethical and unlikable that it's hard to care what happens to him as he dodges (and takes beatings from) men to whom he owes hundreds of thousands of dollars. He hardly seems to care, so audiences shouldn't either."

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