The Gambler – is Wahlberg dynamite or the ultimate buzzkill?

mark wahlberg

Once again, the movie industry has chosen to take a classic film and turn it into a contemporary remake. Following in the footsteps of Alfie, Annie, and The Amityville Horror, The Gambler is the latest iconic film to be given a modern makeover. Now you may think it’s a fool’s errand to take a classic of such iconic status and give it a current twist – and we may be inclined to agree with you – but when the movie industry has dollar signs in their eyes, there’s no stopping them.

The rise in popularity of online casino games – particularly with the advent of mobile casino apps which make games more fun and accessible than ever – undoubtedly had a huge influence on Hollywood’s decision to revisit this casino-based drama. But how does the modern remake stand up to the old timer? Did the industry do a grand job or did it sink like a sack of stones?

The original version

Made in 1974, the original film starred James Caan as Jim Bennett – a self-loathing literature professor by day and a high-stakes gambler by night. It follows the story of Bennett’s struggle to come to terms with a gambling addiction and charts his actions as he runs up considerable debts, despite his wealthy background – first, to a Korean casino manager and then to a dodgy loan shark – and as he tries to correct the situation using his loved ones around him. It’s an emotional rollercoaster of rhetoric, self-denial and cringe-worthy bad decisions – and the casino scenes are tantalisingly authentic.

The modern remake

Released Christmas 2014, Mark Wahlberg steps into the shoes of the main man Jim, accompanied by Brie Larson as one of his concerned students and Jessica Lange playing a convincing role as Bennett’s wealthy mother. This Rupert Wyatt version certainly gives the original a run for its money, following the same plot as closely as possible but bringing the self-loathing element to the fore with Wahlberg’s signature pouting. When it comes to the action, the Blackjack moments definitely rival the original with some extremely atmospheric scenes that have you on the edge of your seat.

You can watch the official trailer here…

Some film facts

  • ‘The Gambler’ is based on the screenplay of the same name by James Toback. Karel Weisz directed the 1974 version, while Rupert Wyatt took on the 2014 remake – but in 2011, Toback criticized the idea of a remake.
  • The 2014 version cost a massive $65 million to make. Even if you take into account inflation and the value of the dollar, this doesn’t begin to compare to the small budget used for the original!
  • Mark Wahlberg took this role so seriously that while getting into character, he blew $45K during a single session in a casino in Macau.
  • The modern version premiered at the 2014 AFI Fest, pipped as a would-be Oscar-worthy contender – but when the makers realised such dreams weren’t going to happen, they released it in time for Christmas to 2,478 cinemas and reeled in $5 million on its first day – reaching $18 million in the first four days.

Our favourite line (2014 version)‘What’s wrong with you? You got brain damage?’

(Frank addressing Jim: a bit of a bombshell after listing Frank’s good qualities such as charm, looks, privilege and education).

So – which is best?

Remaking any classic cult film is a risky move, and the critics have certainly been active. We think the main plus of the modern version is Wahlberg’s performance, combined with a strong effort from (a notably bald) John Goodman as bad guy loan shark, Frank.

However, it seems that not everyone is in agreement – while Wahlberg’s acting was described as ‘dynamite’ by the UK’s The Guardian newspaper, Vulture dubbed his delivery as the ‘ultimate buzzkill’, pointing out that his rhetoric sometimes feels too staged. We think this is a bit harsh. Even though Caan was nominated for a Golden Globe for his killer performance – and was definitely more convincing – and although it doesn’t look like Wahlberg will receive any such attention, his was a notable effort, especially when you take into consideration that it was such a hard act to follow.

As for leading ladies, Miss Larson definitely has charm but Lauren Hutton is certainly more smoldering. You can watch a scene here and decide for yourself!

The IMdB website currently rates the modern version as 6.9, but the original pips it at 7.2 – and who are we to argue? A nice try guys – and great timing with Christmas, to give us a break from the usual trite – but sometimes, the original is just…better.

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