Director: Rupert Wyatt
Screenwriter: William Monahan
Starring: Mark Wahlberg, John Goodman and Brie Larson
Release Date: 25th December 2014
Hollywood movies have long been obsessed with the charged and risky atmosphere of the casino. Even with the rise of online gambling, with many now making their high-stake plays from the privacy of their own homes, Hollywood still cannot get enough of the duality of sin and luxury offered by the casino setting. Therefore, in honour of Hollywood’s continued affair with glittering chandeliers, seedy dealings and shuffling cards, we’ve taken a look at the star-studded remake of The Gambler.
The original movie, released in 1974, was an equally slick and melancholic drama which, although later gaining cult-status, found little appreciation upon its original release. The Gambler was directed by Karel Reisz, who is best known for directing Meryl Streep’s Oscar-nominated performance in The French Lieutenant’s Woman, and written by James Toback, who based the narrative loosely off his own experiences. The film focuses on Harvard-educated professor Axel Freed, who is both an inspiration to his students and beloved by his family and friends. However, Axel – played with the perfect mixture of charisma and pathos by James Caan – has a secret; a potent gambling addiction that is quickly spiralling out of control.
The film looks at the excitement of the gambling industry and the highs and lows involved but also fearlessly chronicles Axel’s descent into debt, criminality and moral-decay. As his money troubles rise, Axel goes to greater and greater lengths to survive, if solely to continue feeding his addiction. He bribes a student to fix a basketball game, in order to appease a loan-shark who has placed a bet, and beats a pimp almost to death. Caan expertly handles this complex role, earning himself a Golden-Globe nomination, making Axel a captivating character who invokes pity and disgust in equal measure. Moreover, the film’s final shot is a tour-de-force in nihilism, so unflinching it captures Axel’s fall.
The remake, which premiered at the AFI Fest in November, stars Mark Wahlberg and is directed by Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes director Rupert Wyatt. Whilst Wahlberg is not well known for his dramatic and complex roles, he has demonstrated enough skill through past performances – particularly in The Fighter and The Departed – to show that he is capable of the nuances required for the role. Rounding out the remake’s cast is John Goodman, continuing his renaissance as an off-beat supporting player, and Jessica Lange, fresh from another scenery-chewing performance in American Horror Story.
Whilst the film was originally slated to be directed by Martin Scorsese, with Leonardo DiCaprio attached to star, the finalised duo of Wahlberg and Wyatt is not as much of a step down as some would claim. Wyatt has shown considerable skill in adapting prior cinematic work.
His 2011 reboot of the Planet of the Apes series was able to deftly integrate the essence of the original whilst updating the source material with a contemporary sheen. Moreover, Wyatt’s visual flair and ability to create nicely framed and potent imagery will lend itself well to the symbolic and moody nature of the original.