Complete A-Z list

Gambler, The


Stars: Mark Wahlberg, Brie Larson, John Goodman, Jessica Lange, Michael Kenneth Williams, André Braugher, Alvin Ing, Leland Orser, George Kennedy, Anthony Kelley

Director: Rupert Wyatt

If memory serves, director Wyatt has changed the ending from the original 1974 version of this fitfully entertaining story of compulsive gambling, which has a killer soundtrack to match its action.

Wahlberg plays the title role - Jim, an English professor with a wealthy mother (Lange), who increasingly reluctantly pays off his mounting gambling debts. Most of us would hotfoot it from the casino after winning $40,000. But not this guy. He goes for broke, which is, of course, exactly how he ends up.

Soon, he's in debt for 200K to Korean casino bosses and another hefty sum to a lethal black gambling boss (Williams) and is going cap in hand to a third big shot (a prodigiously overweight Goodman) for a quarter-mill loan. The consequences of his failing to pay back any of these are dire indeed.

Failing to strike a bargain with Goodman, and starting an affair with one of his brightest students (Larson), Jim is forced to resort once again to his mother, who agrees to a once-and-final payment. Why she doesn't take it straight to the sharks he owes it to, before her son has a chance to gamble it all away again, is a bit of a mystery, but it isn't long before Jim is involved in fixing sports events to dig himself out of a massive hole.

The film has some less-than-interesting moments early on, which the star's high voltage performance does little to dissipate, but it gathers momentum towards the end as Jim's frantic last-ditch efforts come to a head. The bad guys are chillingly menacing, while Lange, older than perhaps we remembered, proves as effectively bitchy as ever in her supporting role.

David Quinlan

USA 2014. UK Distributor: Paramount. Colour (unspecified).
110 minutes. Widescreen. UK certificate: 15.

Guidance ratings (out of 3): Sex/nudity 0, Violence/Horror 1, Drugs 0, Swearing 3.

Review date: 18 Jan 2015