Sunday, January 04, 2015

"The Gambler": Marky livens up remake of story of lit prof addicted to gambling, and he gets out of trouble, all right

It’s screenwriting 101 lesson 1 to put your “hero” in peril that looks impossible to get out of,  and let him solve his problems with the deepest resources of his character.
So it is with “The Gambler”, directed by Rupert Wyatt.  We like college literature professor Jim Bennett (“Marky Mark” Wahlberg, now 43 but still smooth) because he talks fast, sounds smart, and can manipulate people.  But why is he addicted to gambling in the first place?  The movie will take him through seven days of evading loan sharks (mostly bruiser-types and “Koreans”, rather like John Grisham’s goons) who will threaten his family (his mother, Jessica Lange) and students --- and that process, well known from the underworld and Mafia movies, would get really dangerous in asymmetric war against people just for political motivation.  In the end, yes, Marky outsmarts them, partly because he is really good at poker.  Not chess, but a real game of chance. 
The college sport  du jour here is basketball, which may explain a Christmas Day release for a film that really belongs in early Spring.   Yes, Bennett gets pressured to pass student athletes, including Lamar (Anthony Kelly), and he’s good at fixing basketball games past their Vegas spread.  A second sport is tennis, but Dexter (Emory Cohen) is less convincing as a kid, who, despite stardom, has trouble beating Marky’s mom.
The best scene in the film comes early, where Marky engages the students in a lecture hall, about how Shakespeare expressed rage over the fact that, not only is wealth unequal, but basic human talent is distributed by anti-Maoist luck too.  Marky is fumed about his status as a midlist novelist, whose publisher will probably soon drop him down into just Kindle sales. He says he isn’t that good as a writer.  Few people have the muse, just as few have the gift to compose music like Beethoven, or few can pitch or hit home runs.  Only gifted student Amy (Brie Larson, although Brit Marling comes to mind) is good enough.  Guess what,  possible romance with a student.
The official site is here.  Paramount did not use its impressive musical introduction here, instead immediately starting the sounds of a pinwheel. 
Leonardo Di Caprio was supposed to star at first, and the film would have had a different take.  The film appears to be a remake of a 1974 film by Karel Reisz.  The new version is written by James Monahan and William Toback.

There were no outdoor scenes in Las Vegas, which I would have expected. I saw the film at the AMC Courthouse, before a fair early Sunday night audience.

 For movies of this subject, I like the 2008 film “21”, by Robert Luketic, where Jim Sturgess plays the impressive math whiz at card counting.  

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