Plot: What’s it about?
The house always wins.
Gambling can be fun…in small amounts. Then again I guess any vice can be fun in small amounts, but it’s that excessiveness that really makes something a problem. If I lose a few bucks at the casino, I don’t worry about it. Then again I don’t lose any more than I can afford to and I certainly don’t borrow money from loan sharks to pay off my debts (tell me how that’s ever a good idea). Any time I’m in a casino and someone thinks they’re going to win – I say this “take a look around you – they don’t build all of this with your winnings.” I’m a great person to have along at the casino, aren’t I? Still, for some, gambling is a way to make a living, albeit a very difficult one. It’s more about knowing when to quit rather than being good or just plain lucky. And this is something that Jim (Mark Wahlberg) can’t seem to get through his head.
Jim Bennett (Mark Wahlberg) is an English professor at a Los Angeles university. He’s a published author, intelligent and comes from a very well-to-do home. So why is it that he bets $10,000 hands of blackjack and continues to let it ride until he eventually loses? In an effort to consolidate his debts, Jim is into a casino owner for $240,000. He then borrows from another loan shark, Neville Baraka (Michael Kenneth Williams) only to lose. He’s got a week before things get really bad. With no other options in sight, he turns to his mother (Jessica Lange) for the money. She gives it to him. However Jim and one of his students, Amy (Brie Larson) jaunt off to a casino where, well…you get the idea. Broke, desperate and a marked man, Jim then turns to his last option – Frank (John Goodman). Will this be the break Jim needs to get his debts erased or will he continue to be a victim of the system?
If the plot sounds familiar, it’s because this is a remake of the 1974 film of the same name. That version starred James Caan and Paul Sorvino. Not a lot has changed with this update and I was a bit dubious if this film really needed to be remade (then again, most don’t). One of my recent favorites is Rounders with Edward Norton and Matt Damon, it showcases the seedy underside of gambling and the lengths that people are willing to go to get that perfect hand. I have to believe that several things in this movie exist, though I don’t think I’ll go looking for underground casinos anytime soon. The film’s tone and pace are downtrodden and there’s really not a whole lot of action involved – even if you are a gambler. Evidently Paramount was pretty disappointed by the box office of this film, but I just don’t see this as a film that everyone would want to rush out and see.
Video: How’s it look?
I looked – hard, to try and find an error in this 2.40:1 AVC HD transfer, but I wasn’t able to spot an error. This is as pristine as it gets, folks. The dark, smoke-filled casino looks like you could reach out and place a bet. Flesh tones are a bit on the muted side and detail is amazing. The laugh lines and forehead wrinkles of Wahlberg are very well-defined. The detail isn’t a great thing when we see a shirtless John Goodman (in not one, but two occasions) but that’s part of what HD is! Contrast and black levels are rock solid. Each of Jim’s “associates” has a different color palette to compliment them and it’s a very unique look and feel to the film. This is perfection.
Audio: How’s it sound?
This is a very understated DTS HD Master Audio track. Vocals take front and center here and though there are some ambient effects, it’s a pretty basic track. Towards to end of the film we get something that I can only describe as a “pulse” that makes the LFE thump with a bit of life. It’s a neat little trick that I picked up on. There aren’t many directional effects to speak of and not a lot of action in the film itself, but this has a very downplayed audio quality to it. While not the most robust mix, it does deliver in the subtlety department.
Supplements: What are the extras?
This two disc set seems to have all of the features on the Blu-ray whereas the included DVD is featureless.
- Mr. Self Destruct: Inside The Gambler – A few of these featureless overlap in regard to content, but this is your overview. Containing interviews with the cast and crew, we get a look at the original film and what brought this remake to life after four decades.
- Dark Before Dawn: The Descent of The Gambler – This is more of a technical feature as we get a look at some of the locales used for shooting (an abandoned YWCA that was set to become a hotel) as well as some of the authentic casino and gaming techniques in the film.
- Changing the Game: Adaptation – Screenwriter William Monahan gives us a very candid and in-depth explanation as to what it takes to write a film, particularly one from an existing film. It’s an intriguing process and one that I don’t envy.
- In the City: Locations – The Location Director tells of the different places in Los Angeles that were used to film the movie. He tells of the challenge of finding different locations that hadn’t been filmed in other movies and the inspiration for each. I found this to be very interesting.
- Dressing the Players: Costume Design – Pretty self-explanatory – a feature on the look and feel of the wardrobes for the film.
- Deleted/Extended Scenes – Six total, with two being extended versions of those that appeared in the film.
- DVD/Digital HD Copy
The Bottom Line
By no means is The Gambler a bad film. Far from it. It’s a character study about addiction in its most pure form. The film has a great cast with Wahlberg leading the way, but John Goodman and Jessica Lange are nice additions as well. The Blu-ray features reference-quality video and a smattering of supplements that might make it worth a purchase. For others with a passing interest, perhaps a rental.