Yet again we have a movie made by talented folks with Oscars in their sights. This is a recipe for disaster. Make a movie for audiences, make a movie for yourself. But don’t make a movie designed to please the rank and file Oscar voter. This movie plays like a Mark Wahlberg vanity vehicle.
It’s a film designed to showcase the powerful Hollywood producer/star’s acting chops. Alas, Paramount’s “The Gambler” does the opposite. It serves to reveal the actor’s weaknesses. When cast exactly right in muscular, working class roles–“The Departed” and “The Fighter” come to mind—Wahlberg can deliver. But he is not professorial material. No matter how hard he tries.
Partly, “The Gambler” is revealed as dated. And its treatment of women is part of the issue (not unlike Paul Thomas Anderson’s “Inherent Vice”). It seems that many filmmakers do not realize that women can do more than play withholding mothers or doting girlfriends. Jessica Lange and Brie Larson both deserve better here.
Finally, this is one of those movies about a man getting in his own way. Our anti-hero has a gambling addiction. He is depressed. He is trapped. And the arc of the movie is about him trying to ditch his unhappy life and pull it out. Snore.
John Goodman as a canny loan shark reminds yet again that he is a sublime actor who can’t help but be interesting. Would that Wahlberg were as capable. Director Wyatt does his best with this script and producer-star. He would have been better off directing the “Apes” sequel.