This movie is
so full of clichés that you have a basic decision to make at the outset: just
roll with all the clichés, or walk away and forget it. If you choose the
latter, there's nothing else to talk about. If you choose the former, well,
welcome to the binary world of "The Gambler," where everything, no
matter how complicated it appears, boils down to a simple decision. Either you
do or you don't.
Wahlberg plays Jim Bennett, the middle-aged guy with his hair still too long,
who teaches literature at a nearby college.
job. Most of the students need some kind of English credit.
This Prof is smart, articulate, down-to-earth, resourceful, and takes the time
to know who his students are. He also leads a double life: he's an impulsive
gambler. You either have the guts to bet big or you don’t.
not talking about people who waste their days pulling the one-armed bandit in
grungy lounges. Nor are we talking about a craps shooter carefully playing the
mathematical percentages in Vegas. We're doing the back rooms here, where the
real players are. The ones who don't blink at a $10,000 bet at the blackjack
table. Or a $20,000 bet on the roulette wheel. Always black.You either win or lose.
We first meet
the Professor when he's sitting beside his father on his deathbed, except Jim
can't seem to give his undivided attention, even there: he's looking at a
basketball game on his phone. Afterwards, he immediately stops off at one of
those clandestine gambling houses, and keeps making “doubling up”
blackjack bets until he finally loses. As if he really wants to lose. Then he
owes the shady thugs who run the illegal establishment, and that, of course,
puts him squarely in the company of cruel gangsters who don't care where he
gets the money. You either pay up or you die.
his rich mother (Jessica Lange) is a source, and she does the cliché thing of
giving him just enough to cover his debts, and telling him “No more.” The
Professor lectures his class that a true genius, like Shakespeare, is born,
not made. And natural talent is a gift. And so these three students in the
room who are the ranked tennis player, the star basketballer, and the creative
writer: all three stand out for what they possess that all the others don't.
Sorry, boys and girls, life's not fair. Get over it.You either got it or you don’t.
course the biggest cliché is for The Prof to take up with one of the
students, and though he says he's way past that, he's not, really. It’s just
another form of self-indulgent addiction, and his personality wouldn’t deny
himself the cheap thrill.See, what he doesn't have in his pitiful life is
anything resembling love, which he seems to try to compensate for by
attempting to feel something, anything, at the gaming table, even if it's
depression. Or is he really suicidal, but is too cowardly to “off”
himself, so he'll just let the hulking muscle men do it for him?Of course, like Kenny Rogers says in his song
"The Gambler," every hand's a winner, and every hand's a loser. And,
he might have added, every gambler's a winner, and every one also a loser.
It's all in the timing. It's all in making the big play at exactly the right
moment. And then being willing to walk away for good.You either make it or you don’t.
Professor do that? Does he even want to? And how many students would he need
to corrupt to get there?No, these characters aren't very likeable. And
really, every one is a caricature. But somehow we can't take our eyes off the
roulette wheel, anyway. Because it if comes up black, just this one time, when
we've bet everything on that one chance..........well, how can we not stay to
see if it comes up black?You either start a new life, or you don’t.
Ronald P. Salfen is the Parish Associate, Woodhaven Presbyterian Church,