By AISLING MCENTEGART
On the surface, Rupert Wyatt’s newest film “The Gambler” may seem like an age old tale of an unhappy man addicted to the possibility of winning a fortune. However, this remake of a 1974 film of the same name offers a much more fascinating concept to the audience.
In theory, Jim Bennett (Mark Wahlberg) seems to have it all. He is the author of a successful novel, has a steady job as an English professor at a respected university and is the grandson of a wealthy California banker. Sadly, this is not the case and Bennett is stuck in a rut of deep boredom. The audience is presented with a man numbed by the monotony of his life, not one who enjoys a life of privilege.
Wahlberg makes no effort to make Bennett a likeable character, but portrays him in as a somewhat volatile, yet honest manner. By day Bennett is a usual professor, however, by night in what seems like an attempt to elicit some excitement into his otherwise mundane life, Bennett spends his time gambling at sketchy casinos. Much to the despair of the audience Bennett throws away thousands of dollars through his gambling habit, racking up massive debts.
His lack of ability to repay his debts, along with his eagerness to continue gambling begins to become an annoyance to the owner of the casino, causing Bennett to borrow a large sum of money from local gangster Neville (Michael K. Williams) in the hopes of clearing his debts.
It is evident that Bennett’s job as an English professor seems to have become a point of frustration for him. The student athletes in his class think they can get away without doing any work and the students with talent do not wish to voice their opinions. This leads to Bennett calling out Amy Phillips, who he considers to be the most brilliant students in his class.
He later enters into an affair with Phillips, putting his job at risk which is the only source of income he has at this point. As Bennett continues to become further indebted this puts the life of his mother (Jessica Lange) and Phillips in peril, causing Bennett to realize he must repay his debts or face dire consequences.
In order to pay back the owner of the casino he frequents, Bennett continues to borrow money, further burying himself in debt. Thus, a vicious circle begins of Bennett borrowing money from other sources to pay back other people.
Things begin to get nasty as soon as Bennett’s creditors realize he does not have the means to pay them back. As a last resort he borrows a large sum from another local gangster, Frank (John Goodman) who promises he will kill Bennett if he does not pay him back.
At this point it begins to become clear that Bennett has an objective and he is not simply addicted to gambling. In order to turn over a new leaf and live a life free from the privileges he has received from his grandfather, he must lose everything and start again.
Gamblers are usually playing to win, but Bennett is playing to lose. He is not gambling for money, but gambling with his life. He knows very well that he may lose his life at any moment, but continues to play the game for the chance of rebirth and happiness thereafter.
Once the true message of this film becomes apparent, the beauty and cleverness of the plot comes to lights. If one never puts anything on the line, there is never the opportunity to gain anything. Great things are never achieved through playing it safe all the time.
“The Gambler” is most definitely a must see film for this winter and will offer the audience a thought provoking film experience in which they will be engaged and focused throughout.