The Gambler travels to unforeseen depths


Mark Wahlberg delivers a tantalizing performance in the nuanced film, The Gambler, currently in theaters.

By Sophie Haddad, Carlmont High School

I’m feeling lucky. All on black.

From the tell-all trailer and typecast-able title, we may think we know all there is to know about The Gambler. Some idiot loses everything at a poker table and then spends the rest of the movie running from unforgiving headhunters to whom he owes money. To our surprise, we find that the film delves far deeper than the superficial world of a gambling addict.

Jim Bennett (Mark Wahlberg), a university professor, teaches literature to students who he harangues and beleaguers relentlessly, yet loves with the compassion of a mentor. The unmistakable intimacy Bennett shares with his students allows viewers to explore nontraditional and refreshing interactions. It is altogether fitting that Bennett share a platonic relationship with those to whom he teaches Camus and Shakespeare. And although Bennett may reserve more-than-platonic feelings for one of his students, it’s clear that romance is not the signature strain of the plot line.

A remake of the 1974 Karel Reisz film, The Gambler offers a rare level of sophistication that sets it apart. Tragically, this sophistication doesn’t translate to the trailer. Two minutes and thirty three seconds is hardly enough to capture the severely nuanced work of art that is The Gambler. In fact, the film is so powerful and philosophically provocative that it cannot be fully appreciated after only one viewing. 

The quality that makes The Gambler so satisfying is at first hard to identify. Perhaps it is the subtle way that symbolism is introduced. Or perhaps it is the subliminal thematic references to suicide and nihilism.



It’s the acute attention to detail that director Rupert Wyatt utilizes that makes this film such a phenomenon. The flawless editing ensures a comfortable pace while conveying tension in the backroom deals that put Bennett’s life on the line.

To a man who treats life like it’s a game, pride seems an arbitrary principle. Yet maybe it’s what connects Bennett to humanity. In the memorable bathtub scenes, Bennett courts death only to find that it really isn’t up to him. The implication stands that some metaphysical property decides who lives and dies and when. So no matter what he does to destroy himself, it’s ultimately in the hands of the powers that be.

Wahlberg’s performance is commendable not only because of his range of emotions, evidenced from no later than the first minute in, but also for the startling ties that draw Wahlberg to his blackjack-bedeviled counterpart. The film opens on a grief-stricken Bennett and finds him high as a kite halfway in. This is reminiscent of Wahlberg’s own life, which has witnessed the ascendance from juvenile delinquent to Calvin Klein underwear model.

Stunning performances come also from actors Jessica Lange and John Goodman, although they are not the only big names to grace the screen in this movie. The music score is also worthy of note. With seamless transitions from Chopin to Bob Dylan, the soundtrack will have you grinning in your seat with geeky enthusiasm.

Rather than attacking the audience with an unmitigated onslaught of sex and violence, The Gambler uses those tropes sparingly and, by doing so, hits the audience with inexplicable impact. Because it is not easily understood, nor deliberately formulated according to tried-and-true tricks of film, The Gambler extricates itself from the petty weekend flick category and enters the arena of the bigshots.