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The Gambler (2014): Blu-ray + DVD + Digital HD Review

The Gambler (2014) movie poster The Gambler

Theatrical Release: December 25, 2014 / Running Time: 111 Minutes / Rating: R

Director: Rupert Wyatt / Writers: William Monahan (screenplay), James Toback (original film)

Cast: Mark Wahlberg (Jim Bennett), John Goodman (Frank), Brie Larson (Amy Phillips), Michael Kenneth Williams (Neville Baraka), George Kennedy (Ed), Jessica Lange (Roberta), Richard Schiff (Jeweler), Andre Braugher (Dean Fuller), Emory Cohen (Dexter), Domenick Lombardozzi (Big Ernie), Anthony Kelley (Lamar Allen), Alvin Ing (Mister Lee)

Buy The Gambler from Amazon.com: Blu-ray + DVD + Digital HD DVD Instant Video

Mark Wahlberg is bulletproof. Forget the juvenile criminal record he's been trying to get expunged and the insensitive comments about 9/11. Consider him purely as an entertainer and you've got to marvel at just how impervious he is to ridicule and failure.
He began as a contemporary of Vanilla Ice, the kind of rapper that elementary school kids could dig. From there, he turned to underwear modeling and then acting, where a few embarrassing credits (Renaissance Man, Fear) weren't enough to keep him from succeeding. Collaborations with Paul Thomas Anderson (Boogie Nights) and David O. Russell (Three Kings) got Wahlberg noticed.

Since then, no number of critically thrashed movies could stall his stardom -- not Tim Burton's Planet of the Apes remake, not M. Night Shyamlan's reviled The Happening, not the latest Transformers installment. No one really seems to herald Wahlberg as an excellent actor; his lead performance in The Fighter was the only principal actor turn from Russell's last three films not to get an Academy Award nomination. But he's charismatic, sympathetic, steady, and age-resistant enough to endure both critical and, less commonly, commercial misfires, maintaining his status as an in-demand leading man who is just as comfortable acting in a Seth MacFarlane comedy across a foul-mouthed CGI teddy bear as he is performing for Martin Scorsese in a Best Picture Oscar winner.

Wahlberg has leaned more towards mainstream action vehicles than serious acting in recent years, but he gives us the latter in The Gambler, a drama he also produced. This film is a remake, but the type of remake with a chance to succeed, since the film it is based on is neither all that well-known nor very good. Released in 1974 while James Caan was enjoying the perks of his breakout role in The Godfather, that film marked the screenwriting debut of James Toback, who went on to write/direct a number of films in the 1980s and '90s but has been scarce of late. This remake is penned by William Monahan, who won an adapted screenplay Academy Award for turning the Hong Kong film Infernal Affairs into the aforementioned The Departed. This is Monahan's fourth script to be realized since that Scorsese gig and his fourth to struggle at the box office and strike out with critics.

2014's "The Gambler" stars Mark Wahlberg as Jim Bennett, a college literature professor with a serious gambling problem.

Wahlberg plays Jim Bennett, an English literature professor at an unnamed liberal arts college whose mantra is "if you're not a genius, don't bother." Bennett wrote a well-received novel back in 2007, which today he is embarrassed by. The teacher gets his kicks not in the lecture hall, where attendance and attention dwindle, but in casinos and gambling halls. Bennett likes to bet big on blackjack and the occasional roulette wheel. He's pretty good, too, but doesn't know when to quit. After losing everything on one hand too many, Bennett is given 7 days to pay back the more than $200,000 he owes Korean mobsters and the loaned $50,000 he has lost belonging to a local crime figure (Michael Kenneth Williams).

There is only so much you can do to make blackjack cinematic. Director Rupert Wyatt (Rise of the Planet of the Apes) tries all of it. He applies a thick layer of music ranging from a Billy Bragg cover of Bob Dylan to a tune from Searching for Sugar Man subject Rodriguez. ("Gimme Shelter", the signature Scorsese Rolling Stones number that turned Gambler's theatrical trailer into a music video, is interestingly left out.) Wyatt and cinematographer Greig Fraser (Zero Dark Thirty, Foxcatcher) compose the frame interestingly and stylishly. Days are counted down with graphics that deliberately appear and disappear.

All of these touches breathe some life into a simple and very tired tale: the old "desperate guy in debt" yarn. Wahlberg is no more credible as a passionate, literate novelist turned higher educator than he was as a rural tinkerer for Michael Bay. But you buy him as a guy with demons and a serious problem. Watching him cater to that problem again and again is highly frustrating, even with mentions of gambling as a disease and one likened to other forms of self-destructive addiction.

Last resort loan shark Frank (John Goodman) looks like he comes straight from Ancient Rome. Jim's mother Roberta (Jessica Lange) has more money than compassion.

Bennett's dilemma is fleshed out in too brief encounters with supporting characters. There's John Goodman as a bald kingpin established as the ultimate last resort for a loan. Jessica Lange plays Jim's wealthy, widowed mother, who offers mild concern and compassionless financial assistance. The worst and most focal of supporting threads involves Bennett's star student turned love interest played by Brie Larson.
Larson, who won raves for her performance in the 2013 indie Short Term 12, feels wrong for a role there's nothing right about. You can only hope the film will resist returning to this extremely underdeveloped, sparkless romance as a source of redemption. A better teacher-student storyline involves an all-American basketball player (Anthony Kelley) who confides in Bennett that he is ready to turn pro.

Though its Christmas Day opening positioned it as an Oscar season dark horse, The Gambler had virtually no effect on film's award season. Its lone documented nomination was Williams' Outstanding Supporting Actor nod from the Black Reel Awards. The other perk of a holiday season debut -- a reliable boost in moviegoing -- also proved to be a non-factor. Paramount Pictures had scored a surprise blockbuster a year earlier in The Wolf of Wall Street. Despite a comparable theater count and R-rated content, Gambler wasn't anywhere near as popular. It opened in seventh place and mostly disappeared from theaters after three weeks, at which point it was close to concluding its $33.7 M domestic run. Barely exhibited in theaters outside of North America, the movie pulled down Wahlberg's formidable average gross. At least it did so to modest commercial expectations, with a reported passion project production budget of just $25 million.

Despite the modest returns, Paramount still treats The Gambler to one of their standard Blu-ray + DVD + Digital HD combo pack releases this week, eighteen days after the studio made the film available on Digital HD alone.

The Gambler: Blu-ray + DVD + Digital HD combo pack cover art - click to buy from Amazon.com Blu-ray & DVD Details

2.40:1 Widescreen (DVD Anamorphic)
BD: 5.1 DTS-HD MA (English); DVD: Dolby Digital 5.1 (English)
Both: Dolby Digital 5.1 (Spanish, French, Portuguese, Descriptive Video Service)
Subtitles: English, Spanish, French; BD movie-only: English for Hearing Impaired
DVD Closed Captioned; Extras Subtitled
Release Date: April 28, 2015
Suggested Retail Price: $39.99
Two single-sided, dual-layered discs (BD-50 & DVD-9)
Blue Keepcase in Embossed Cardboard Slipcover
Also available as standalone DVD ($29.99 SRP) and Amazon Instant Video


The Gambler boasts the high quality picture and sound you expect of a new studio movie coming to Blu-ray in 2015. The 2.40:1 presentation is completely flawless and the 5.1 DTS-HD master audio soundtrack engages thoroughly with a track that has range.

Rupert Wyatt directs Michael Kenneth Williams on the set of "The Gambler." William Monahan exudes arrogance in his discussion of the current state of screenwriting.


The Blu-ray's all-HD extras begin with "Mr. Self Destruct: Inside The Gambler" (14:12), a general making-of featurette that considers the film as a remake of the 1974 one it liberally excerpts. It devotes much time to Mark Wahlberg's performance and the liquid diet he used to lose weight for the part. Talking head comments are complemented by some behind-the-scenes production footage.

"Dark Before Dawn: The Descent of The Gambler" (16:26) explores the supporting characters not covered in the previous piece, touching on the depictions of underworlds and gambling.

"Changing the Game: Adaptation" (9:02) focuses on William Monahan's screenplay, with more looks comparing the remake to the original. Monahan shows little regard for modern film, displaying some arrogance in the process.

This pool ladder is one of numerous Los Angeles locations the film utilized. Dexter (Emory Cohen), an underachieving tennis-playing student who becomes an accomplice to Jim, is introduced in this deleted scene.

"In the City: Locations" (9:27) discusses the Los Angeles locations where this was shot.

"Dressing the Players: Costume Design" (7:49) rounds out the topical featurettes with Jacqueline West giving insight into the way she dressed the film's characters,

specifically the slimmed down Wahlberg and Lange, whose look was based on an unnamed San Francisco icon.

Finally, we get a long reel of six deleted/extended scenes (23:31). These show us more of Bennett in class, more of Dexter (his underachieving student turned accomplice), Bennett tagging along on a loan shark enforcer's house call, a scene with Bennett's ex-wife and a baby, and two with a college colleague (played by an otherwise absent Leland Orser).

While the Blu-ray opens with streams of timely trailers, the otherwise barren DVD cannot connect to the Internet and therefore hard-codes previews for Terminator: Genisys, Selma, Transformers: Age of Extinction, and "Ray Donovan": Season One. The DVD's Previews listing advertises Boyhood and Men, Women & Children before repeating those three. The Gambler's own trailer, the aforementioned "Gimme Shelter" music video, is sadly but characteristically not included.

The scored static menu adapts the film's theatrical poster. The Blu-ray does not resume playback, but does let you set bookmarks on the film.

The plain blue and gray discs are topped by a glossy slipcover. One insert supplies your Digital HD UltraViolet code and directions, the other offers $15 off a Ticketmaster sports ticket purchase.

Mark Wahlberg IS The Gambler.


The Gambler is the rare remake I would consider an improvement over its predecessor. That said, it wasn't a high bar to clear and this update walked me down a tightrope between like and dislike. Compensating for its substance's staleness with style and a script that thinks it's smarter than it is (which is still fairly smart judged against contemporary cinema), the movie has its good moments slightly outnumber its bad ones for an ultimately passable, but not great experience.

Paramount's Blu-ray combo pack meets expectations with its first-rate film presentation and a solid hour and a half of video extras, highlighted by deleted/extended scenes. For interested parties, this should at least warrant a rental.

Buy The Gambler from Amazon.com: Blu-ray + DVD + Digital HD / DVD / Instant Video

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Related Reviews:
Mark Wahlberg: Pain & Gain Transformers: Age of Extinction The Fighter Invincible Lone Survivor The Happening
Written by William Monahan: Body of Lies Edge of Darkness | Directed by Rupert Wyatt: Rise of the Planet of the Apes
John Goodman: Flight The Big Lebowski Inside Llewyn Davis Argo The Hangover Part III
Brie Larson: Scott Pilgrim vs. the World 21 Jump Street | Jessica Lange: The Postman Always Rings Twice The Vow
Middle Men 21 Thief Rob the Mob The Wolf of Wall Street Lay the Favorite The Color of Money
New to Blu-ray: A Most Violent Year U Turn The Rewrite Kidnapping Mr. Heineken Inherent Vice Hoop Dreams St. Vincent

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Reviewed April 29, 2015.

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