Friday, 26 June 2015

The Gambler

Remakes. Who needs them? Why take a perfectly good film that still holds up today, and make it again? Although I do not agree with it, I can partly understand the advantage of updating films with dated special effects. But a dialogue-driven drama about the timeless subject of gambling addiction? If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. But that’s exactly what has been done here, with this downright unnecessary remake: The Gambler. In 1974, James Toback wrote the original story, heavily inspired by his own life. It was a personal project. James Caan starred in the lead, and was nominated for a Golden Globe for his performance. Caan lists it among his favourite works. So, imagine Toback’s shock when he learned a remake was going ahead – without being told first. Toback publicly labelled the idea of remaking The Gambler to be one of ‘rudeness and disrespect’, considering the personal nature of the story. 

Announced in 2011 as another Scorsese/DiCaprio project, the film lagged in development hell with a frequently changing team involved until Rupert Wyatt (director of Rise of the Planet of the Apes) and ‘Marky Mark’ Wahlberg finally got the film made, and it’s out now on DVD & Blu-ray for your viewing pleasure…maybe. Wahlberg stars as Jim Bennett, titular gambler and literary professor (yes, Wahlberg as a literary professor…you’ve got to laugh) with shit hair. His gambling compulsion causes him to fall into debt and borrow money from the wrong people (and his mum). On top of this, he’s falling for one of his students. All in all, very similar to the original film’s plot. 

The Gambler thinks it is better than it is. It feels rather cocky in its style, but there’s really not much to be cocky about. Sure, there’s some decent supporting turns from Jessica Lange and John Goodman (inexplicably bald, looking like a big angry baby). But none of the characters, even Wahlberg’s Jim, feel like they get enough development or depth. Each character has potential, but no use is made of it! The film is adequately directed, well-paced and stylishly delivered – the cinematography is beautifully sleek and atmospheric, especially in the underground casinos of LA – but there’s only so far that can get you. As they say, you can’t polish a turd. It might look and feel like art, but…you know. The main problem with The Gambler is the same problem that plagues most remakes – the constant comparison with the superior original. It’s like watching a film adaptation of a book you know well. It’s difficult to settle in and enjoy the ride, because you can’t stop thinking “that bit was better in the book” or “how could they change that”.

Don’t get me wrong, some remakes (and book adaptations, for that matter) can be done well. A good remake is very rare, but they do exist. A lot of people forget that classics like The Magnificent Seven, Scarface and The Thing (not the re-remake, but the 1982 John Carpenter effort) are all REMAKES. The difference is that most of these good remakes take the original and make it their own – especially The Magnificent Seven, which turned samurais into cowboys – but The Gambler remake didn’t really do anything to justify its own existence.

In conclusion, The Gambler is a frustratingly unnecessary remake. Yes, it looks nice and feels stylish. But in the end, it’s an empty and pointless film that has made me dislike remakes even more. Being a completely dialogue and plot-driven film, I imagine the only real pull factor to watch this film is the plot. If you’re interested in the story, do yourself a favour and check out the original masterpiece.
As for this remake?

Don’t put any money on The Gambler, 1/5.


Sam Love

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