The Gambler is a Solid Remake
The Gambler, directed by Rupert Wyatt and released in 2014, is a remake of the 1974 film of the same name, starring James Caan. This version stars Mark Wahlberg as the gambler of the title, and just like the original film, his compulsive illegal betting gets him into serious trouble. Producers Irwin Winkler and Robert Chartoff also produced the 1974 version.
Like Caan’s character, Mark Wahlberg’s Jim Bennet is a literature professor, although he is based in Los Angeles, not New York. While the original film focused on Dostoyevsky’s theories about the will to manifest a desire, the philosophy behind the 2014 film is well expressed in the tagline: the only way out is all in. It explores a similar theme, however: the self-destructive urges that drive a man who can only feel alive when he is risking everything.
Gambling into a Mountain of Debt
Wahlberg’s Jim is also a gambling addict, and even an inheritance from his wealthy grandfather doesn’t help; he gambles everything away and ends up in debt to the ruthless owner of an underground gambling operation. He also owes a loan shark; the crux of the matter is that he needs almost $300,000 in seven days, or he will be murdered.
Like the gambler in the original movie, Jim tries several schemes to save himself. He tries borrowing from another loan shark, but pulls out when the guy humiliates him. He eventually bullies his mother, played by Jessica Lange, into giving him the money, but instead of paying his debts, he gambles it all away on a trip to a casino with one of his students, who has a crush on him.
Into a Downward Spiral
Eventually, Jim is forced to bribe a college basketball star in one of his classes into throwing a game, so Jim can square his debts with the various mobsters threatening him. But his winnings from the fixed basketball game still don’t cover his debts, so the film climaxes in a Roulette showdown between Jim and a loan shark.
The original film ended with Caan getting into a brutal ghetto fight, trying to capture the rush he got gambling. The Gambler 2014 has a more upbeat ending, but the character arc Jim experiences is very similar to that in the original movie.
Legal Gambling is Much Safer
The Gambler is an entertaining film with a strong cast, containing some fairly obvious lessons on the folly of leaving a gambling addiction untreated. Like the 1974 film, however, the film also makes a subtle point about the difference between legal and illegal gambling.
Basically, in a legal casino or online gambling site, the player has recourse to the law if they are cheated. There are regulations in place to keep casinos honest. In the seamy underworld of illegal gambling, however, the player is on their own. If they end up spending more than they can afford, or the game is rigged, they face nasty physical consequences, without even getting the thrill of winning. As life lessons go, that’s pretty straightforward.