First made in 1974 as a gritty drama starring James Caan, The Gambler has been transformed dramatic actor. Wahlberg plays Jim Bennett, a college English professor and longtime gambler he’s got the upper hand. When he foolishly bets it all and loses, he borrows money from local gangsters—including the scary loan shark Frank (John Goodman) and ruthless Neville Baraka (Michael K. Williams). Things get so bad, he even borrows money from his wealthy mother (Jessica Lange). His life is further complicated when he takes the first steps in a potential relationship with one of his students (Brie Larson)
The gambling scenes are fascinating. Charged with undeniable electricity, as we watch Bennett repeatedly go all in, is it his attempt to feel alive? Self-loathing? A slap in the face to his privileged upbringing? The script by William Monahan (The Departed) refuses to give answers and Bennett’s face remains a blank canvas throughout. Wahlberg reportedly lost sixty pounds for the role and hos slightly gaunt appearance helps to convey his wiry and addictive personality. He also does a fine job at delivering several soliloquies on leading (or not leading, as it were) a better or more intellectually enriched life to his students.
For those looking for a solid piece of crime drama, The Gambler fits the bill. With quick-witted dialogue and several fine supporting performances that give the film some dramatic heft, The Gambler is an entertaining sit. John Goodman and Michael K. Williams turn potentially by-the-numbers loans sharks into colorful polar opposites of each other, who are equally frightening to Bennett. And though her role is small, the talented Jessica Lange manages to nearly steal each of her scenes as a mother who had about all she can take from her son. Unfortunately, the secondary storyline of a potential romance between Bennett and one of his students falls rather flat, largely because the chemistry between Mark Wahlberg and Brie Larson is non-existent.
While the original film might rate slightly higher because it has the benefit of being inspired by director James Toback’s real life experiences with gambling addiction, this remake is ultimately worth a look because, a self-contained crime drama, it benefits from strong performances and well written dialogue.
Presented in the 2.40:1 aspect ratio, Paramount’s 1080p transfer is essentially what viewers have come to expect from new Blu-ray titles. While the overall look is a bit flat do to the digital photography, details are crisp. Image clarity is excellent, revealing consistent sharpness throughout. Though the film is rather dark, colors satisfy. The image shows just trace amounts of noise, but aliasing, banding and other digital imperfections aren’t apparent.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 lossless soundtrack is enveloping and does the job. Music is clear and well defined. The back speakers carry much of the load, with some surround activity. Dialogue is clean and clear throughout.
English, English SDH, French, Spanish and Portuguese subtitles are included.
The following extras are available:
- Self Destruct: Inside The Gambler (HD, 14:12) A look at the original film, modernizing it through the writing and filmmaking process, Wahlberg’s performance and weight loss for the role and Brie Larson’s character and performance.
- Dark Before Dawn: The Descent of The Gambler (HD, 16:26) A look at the film’s technical structure and visual cues, sets and shooting locations, crafting authentic casino and gambling sequences, Rupert Wyatt’s direction, and more.
- Changing the Game: Adaptation (HD, 9:02) A closer look at the process of re-imagining the original film, including thematic differences, character specifics, the screenwriting process, and more.
- In the City: Locations (HD, 9:27) A look at the shooting locations seen throughout the film.
- Dressing the Players: Costume Design (HD, 7:49) A look at the costumes.
- Deleted/Extended Scenes (1080p): Jim’s Lecture – EXT (9:18), A Born Teacher – EXT (1:58), Big Ernie (2:38), Taxi Ride (1:34), Jim’s Ex-Wife (6:40), and Larry Jones (1:44).
- DVD copy of the film.
- UV/iTunes digital copy.
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