The Gambler Blu-ray Review
New Hollywood seems to be obsessed with the bad guy, or at least the characters who were traditionally considered bad guys in the past seem to be glorified and glamorized in today’s cinema. It can be totally overt in a movie like the popular SCARFACE (1983) or TRAINING DAY (2001) where the audience is called to root (to great success) for the villain because the story is told from that point of view. It’s an interesting trick and one that is not without problems. The villain has to be just goofy enough to seem fake, for example (SCARFACE) or so incredibly charismatic we forget who he is until he shows his true character (TRAINING DAY). This trick of storytelling can be used more surreptitiously, in a movie like FAST & THE FURIOUS and all the films in that franchise. There we are given a bad guy, an armed robber, and shown that he’s actually the good guy living in a world of much worse people (i.e. the ‘real’ bad guys).
It isn’t that this is a new phenomena, obviously, but it is possible history will remember this era of film as an era that glorified and even worshiped the worst in our society. Look at your television and take a look through the movie listings. How many of those movies/shows look like they’ll make you smile for a reason other than because you’re judging the person on the screen (a la all reality television) or saw something that was innocent and, for lack of a better word, joyful? Just one quick look at the news and you’ll be reminded why you probably stopped watching – there are no facts anymore, just versions of a story told from someone’s perspective that likely reflects what you thought before you tuned in.
This polarized viewpoint has resulted in some truly cynical cinema, in addition to a world of ‘hipsters’ and other modern-day cliques formed on the general basis of judging one another. So I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised that a movie like THE GAMBLER (2014), starring Mark Wahlberg in his most scuzzy performance since the last 40 minutes of BOOGIE NIGHTS, would be released and count on that very interaction – deciding who is good and who is bad on this sliding scale of morality. And so we’re asked, with THE GAMBLER, to watch and even root for a terrible human being as he does terrible things to himself, to his family, and even to strangers.
THE GAMBLER tells the story of Jim Bennett (Wahlberg), a hapless former novelist who now teaches at a (questionably?) good college but hates his life, his mother, and wants to end everything. Along the way on the road to ruin, Jim takes advantage of his hard-nosed mother (the one memorable performance, by Jessica Lange, if she had played it even slightly differently than her various AMERICAN HORROR STORY roles). Jim also falls for one of his students but we’re supposed to think that’s okay too because, well, she’s going to save him. That always works out, in movies and in real life.
THE GAMBLER relies on the idea that we’re going to root for Wahlberg because he’s ultimately likeable. And that’s what makes THE GAMBLER so strange – Wahlberg, in the role of Jim Bennett, is just a scumbag. Wahlberg has been able to take some pretty gnarly characters and flash his smile and turn on the charisma and pretty soon we’re all eating it up. Not here. In THE GAMBLER Wahlberg’s character makes up the worst of what we hope people never become. He’s a teacher a top school, a writer, and at night he loses his shirt on debts he cannot hope to repay. It’s not his addiction, but the way in which the filmmaker decides to deal with it (or ignore it) that’s the problem.
THE GAMBLER presupposes that gambling addiction is something that can be shrugged off like an old shirt whenever it suits us, even though everything we’ve learned about the character up to this point tells us that isn’t possible. And the story builds to a climax that is about as memorable as it is original… tell me you don’t see it coming from miles away and I’ll say that you’re a liar, Sir. THE GAMBLER could almost be one of those afraid-to-look-away accident scenes of a movie but it relies on too many tropes, including strange romantic comedy moments, that ruin the feel of what could have been at least an interesting movie.
Video: (1080p Widescreen 2.40:1) THE GAMBLER has a nice, crisp and fairly immersive video presentation.
Audio: (English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1) The audio presentation of THE GAMBLER is pretty decent but the mix is a little bit off.
Mr. Self Destruct: Inside THE GAMBLER (14:13) An interesting special feature that goes into the reasons they decided to make the movie this way. It’s very clear the filmmakers were going for the exact thing I didn’t like about THE GAMBLER – I guess I just don’t get it. That being said this is a very interesting few minutes.
Dark Before Dawn: The Descent of THE GAMBLER (16:26) This special feature focuses on the symbolism and filmmaking supporting THE GAMBLER as Jim descends into the world.
Changing the Game: Adaptation (09:03) Writer James Toback and the filmmakers talk about remaking a movie that was fairly successful (the original THE GAMBLER from 1974) and how they changed the story to make THE GAMBLER today.
In the City: Locations (09:27) This special feature focuses on the locations used for THE GAMBLER and how they were used to establish the world.
Dressing the Players: Costume Design (07:49) Another in-depth look at the behind the scenes processes from THE GAMBLER. This is really a great Blu-ray from a special feature standpoint, too bad the movie didn’t really call for it.
Deleted/Extended Scenes (23:31) A selection of scenes that were cut down or completely excised from THE GAMBLER are available on the Blu-ray for your viewing pleasure.
THE GAMBLER Blu-ray also comes with a digital HD Digital Copy of the film.