Mark Walberg gives a stultifying, robotic performance as “Jim Bennett” a gambler with a mythic quest to self-destruct. Unlike James Caan in director Karel Reisz’s 1974, poignant and beautiful portrait of a man incapable of controlling his demonic urges, Walberg’s character, directed by Rupert Wyatt, is always in control; crassly, cavalierly dispensing his mother’s “grace” money; flaunts, and taunts his creditors; he says “I’m not a gambler”, (just a man disillusioned with life) and we believe him.
The egregious flaw of “The Gambler” is why, when and how did Bennett, a brilliant college English professor, a published novelist from a well-heeled family, flounder and find solace in “gifting” his money to establishments whose owners are known for their severe retributions, dispensed gratuitously to deadbeats; “Bennett” is perpetually testing their boundaries and ours.
As a college professor he spouts Camus, Shakespeare with “Dostoyevskian” angst, captivating student “Amy Phillips” (Brie Larson, a presence yet to be fully explored); a misguided, chemistry- less, unsuccessful pairing.
“Gambling: The sure way of getting nothing for something”. (Wilton Mizner). In “The Gambler”, the viewer for the price of admission, is dealt a losing hand from the get-go.