Home Video Spotlight on: The Gambler


by A.C. Hall

Sometimes people make fun of me when I tell them that Mark Wahlberg is one of my favorite actors.  After watching The Gambler, I finally have a movie I can shove in those people’s faces because Wahlberg is positively brilliant in this film.  It’s criminal how little attention this movie got, because he gives what is easily the best performance of his career here.  The film itself is a look at a man pushed to the breaking points, beset by crippling debts to all the wrong people and cursed with a gambling addiction that seems destined to get him killed.  It’s a bit strange, a bit depressed, and I loved every second of it.
This entire movie thrives because of the can’t miss performance of Wahlberg.  His character is nihilistic to the core, seemingly resigned to an early death at the hands of one of the many scary people he owes money to.  The self destructive nature of his character goes beyond gambling and borrowing money, making itself evident in his day job as a college professor too.  Wahlberg’s character speaks his mind to anyone and everyone, usually making himself more enemies anytime he opens his mouth.  Watching him quickly and effectively spiral towards oblivion is painful, but you cannot take your eyes off the screen.
One thing I really love about this movie is the amount of unique and strange characters it contains.  The film is populated with oddballs and over the top people, from gangsters to tennis stars.  Wahlberg fits right in with them all, a man who wields his intelligence like a club and wears his self destructive tendencies like a badge of honor.  It’s been some time since I had this much fun just watching a great character interact with those around him.
I mentioned the depressed nature of this movie earlier, but I do want to expand on that.  This really is a downer of a story.  While I enjoy movies like these, I know not everyone does.  The movie doesn’t have many moments of joy and humor in it, as this is definitely not a happy movie.  There are almost no likable characters, with just about everyone in the movie possessing a foul mouth and an even fouler disposition.
The writing in this movie is really smart and clever.  I found myself really drawn in by the pacing of the movie.  Scenes of degenerate gambling in seedy underground casinos are followed up with lengthy classroom scenes.  It’s a beautiful night and day look at Wahlberg’s character as the movie smartly lets him shine in as many settings and situations as possible.  The movie builds perfectly to a great ending that left me shaking my head and with a smile on my face.
I know I’m gushing about this movie, but I do want to caution that not everyone is going to like it as much as I did.  This isn’t a typical film in any way.  From the characters to the pacing to the overall spirit of the movie, The Gambler feels very different from most movies.  I’m certain that the depressing overtones won’t appeal to a lot of people, nor will the prospect of watching a character slowly self destruct their entire life.  However, if you feel like this might be your kind of movie then I strongly suggest you check it out.  Wahlberg turns in an award worthy performance as he brings to life one of the most memorable characters I’ve seen in a long time.

This movie is rated R for language throughout, and for some sexuality/nudity