Professor and gambler Jim Bennett (Mark Wahlberg) is facing a very heavy debt with a number of people he shouldn’t be in debt to. Reckless and seeming like he’d prefer his debt be paid with his life, Jim sets up a series of loans that it looks like he’ll never be able to pay off. His very wealthy mother (Jessica Lange) has had enough of his behaviour, and one of the loan sharks wants Jim to convince a star basketball player in his class to throw a game. The only thing Jim seems to have going for him is an inappropriate relationship with his student, Amy (Brie Larson). In a last ditch effort to pay off his debts and start his life fresh, Jim comes up with a plan to pay everybody back so he can walk away from his life and take Amy with him.
Over the years there have been a number of fantastic films following the ups and downs of someone drawn into the world of gambling, but there have been fewer films in recent years. The rise of online gambling has given people the chance to join their favourite online casino , but there really isn’t many films for them to enjoy when they’re not playing. Thankfully, fans can find plenty to enjoy with The Gambler.
Starring Mark Wahlberg as Jim Bennett, an almost suicidal professor, The Gambler throws viewers directly into a tense situation of high stakes blackjack. Instead of walking away when he’s up, Jim doubles down and not only walks away with nothing, but has now added to his debt to a Korean loan shark. To make matters worse, he takes an all or nothing bet with Neville Baraka (Michael Kenneth Williams), winding up another $60,000 in debt and his life on the line if he doesn’t pay within 7 days.
Wahlberg displays an attitude of carelessness, offering viewers a glimpse into his fractured life. Although it seems as if he should be quite happy in his life, Jim seems intent on digging himself further into debt and destroying his life. It’s what he wants though. His job as an English professor does nothing to bring him happiness, and all he really wants is to be left with nothing so he can finally start over.
He finds a connection with his student, Amy (Brie Larson in a small, but strong role prior to her appearance in The Room), who is the one person that Jim can see talent in. She suddenly becomes the one thing in his life that seems to give him a bit of happiness, but it’s also a relationship that can be used against him. While Jim has no reason to fight for his life, he does for Amy’s, and it’s this budding romance that finally pushes him towards reconciling his life.
The tension rarely lets up in the film, whether it’s at the blackjack table or when Jim is constantly confronted by backroom dealings to try and find the money to continue gambling, and Wahlberg is surrounded by a number of outstanding performers. Jessica Lange delivers a powerful performance as Jim’s mother, and she manages to walk away with the few scenes she’s in. John Goodman shows up as loan shark Frank, and his Godfather like performance makes his moments with Jim unforgettable. He also manages to deliver some of the most blunt, but intelligent advice in the film.
The story manages to keep the tension building until the final moments, and even when it may seem like Jim is clear on many occasions, his urge to destroy himself and his life takes over, leaving viewers questioning if he’ll ever manage to escape his situation. It would have benefitted from a little more time at the tables gambling, but with all of the backroom deals and tense conversations between Jim and a number of loan sharks, The Gambler is one film you can bet on winning with.