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Gambling Man

The Gambler (2014)

Plot Overview

“The Gambler” (2014) opens in a hospital room where an old man Jonathan Bennett (George Kennedy) is on his last gasp (“I'm going to die.”) The final words of this seven­teenth richest man in California, spoken to his grand­son James (Mark Wahlberg) are, “I want to know what you're worth when I leave you nothing.”

After the funeral Jim Bennett plays the high roller soon finding him­self in cumulative debt to three serious parties to the tune of $247,000 with seven days to pay it off before it's curtains. We see him in his day job as an associate professor of literature “teaching the modern novel to a class­room full of students who don't give a f—.” He had in fact written a well-reviewed novel in 2007, but there isn't any market for mediocre writers, so he tells his students, “if you're not a genius, don't even bother.” He's talking Shakespeare level here.

If we, dear reader, have somehow managed to pay more attention in English 101 than did these students, we might recall genius level Rudyard Kipling, who wrote of the character building the grand­father was hoping for: “If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster/ And treat those two impostors just the same” (338). Jim does his gambling dis­pas­sion­ately (“Just deal the cards.”) “If you can make one heap of all your winnings/ And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss/ And lose, and start again at your beginnings/ And never breathe a word about your loss” (ibid.) That's how we see him behave. “If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue/ Or walk with kings—nor lose the common touch” (ibid.) He's truthful to a fault when addressing his students, and he doesn't put on airs when negotiating with pawn shop dealer or loan shark. He never grovels to “be a Man, my son!” (ibid.)


Prof. Bennett does some off-the-cuff guidance counseling in his class. The successes and failures in the real world seem to mimic those in his “other life” (gambling), only in the latter it happens faster. One can see some­thing like it at the end of one of the psalms where God curtails fruit­ful­ness: (Psalm 107:33-34) Star basket­ball player Lamar (Anthony Kelley) sees his hopes for going pro in danger of going down the tubes, because “I gotta knee”—only he knows about it—, and “literary person” Amy Phillips (Brie Larson) hides her talent amid mediocrity because she doesn't want to stand out. (Psalm 107:35-37) God has blessed a lot of students with sports talent who come to take this easy English class: Dexter who is number two in amateur tennis and Lamar who has a good shot at the NBA so long as he continues playing next year as a senior. (Psalm 107:38) Lamar finds a way to capitalize on his basket­ball before his knee becomes an issue. (Psalm 107:39) Jim squanders the family money he had. (Psalm 107:40) Jim's mother Roberta (Jessica Lange) a privileged moneyed princess had her husband leave her (“Well, what­ever did happen to dad?”) (Psalm 107:41) It's possible Jim and Amy may find romance, start a family. (Psalm 107:42) We might even get a good feeling at the end.

Production Values

“The Gambler” (2014) is a remake of the 1974 cult-classic The Gambler that starred James Caan. It was written by William Monahan based on the screen­play by James Toback for the 1974 film and was directed by Rupert Wyatt. The movie stars Mark Wahlberg and costars Brie Larson, John Goodman, Michael K. Williams and Jessica Lange. Good talent was displayed over a limited range to work with.

MPAA rated it R for language throughout, and for some sexuality/nudity. The music achieved cinema­graphic perfection. Its diversity ranged from classical to folk to big band, and some of the lyrics acted as commentary on the story. With strong cinema­tog­raphy by Greig Fraser, some well-executed musical cues emphasized rather than embellished key moments.

Review Conclusion w/ Christian Recommendation

I found this movie to be heavy on philosophy what with a recent death, a gambling black hole, a criticizing mother, and a loan shark and a professor both spouting advice (but to different audiences.) Very tense as the week to dead­line gets counted down on screen. Since I'm easy to please, I liked it, but you have to like this kind of stuff to like it. I think a lot of people will.

Movie Ratings

Action factor: Well done action flick. Suitability For Children: Not Suitable for Children of Any Age. Special effects: Average special effects. Video Occasion: Good for a Rainy Day. Suspense: Don't watch this movie alone. Overall product rating: Four stars out of five.

Works Cited

Kipling, Rudyard (1865–1936). “If—”. C.F. Main & Peter J. Seng, eds. Poems. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth Pub. Co., 4th ed. Print.