Written Megan LaBruna
The Gambler Plot Summary:
Literature professor by day, high stakes gambler by night, such is the life of Jim Bennett. In The Gambler, Jim’s reality becomes incredibly complicated when his debts become too large to pay and his creditors come to collect, causing him to place his biggest bet; his life.
Mark Wahlberg takes on the role of Jim, a brutally honest and unhappy college literature professor. He is clearly too smart for his own good and yet believes he has failed in his pursuit of writing, since his only book written in 2007 was not a hit at all. Jim’s belief is if you can’t be the best at something, don’t even bother. He shares this mentality with his class, pointing out that he believes the only student who might have a chance at making it in the literary world is Amy (Brie Larson), a girl who doesn’t come from money or fame, but has a genetic knack for writing.
It just so happens, Amy has seen him in his double life while working at an illegal casino run by Mister Lee (Alvin Ing). Wahlberg was believable as an unhappy, jaded and smart mouthed gambler. However, I’m not entirely sure I buy the side of him that is a straight shooting college professor. Brie Larson on the other hand comes across well as an everyday college student who moonlights as a cocktail waitress at an illegal gambling establishment who also happens to have a crush on her professor with a dark side. Then again, who can blame her, it’s Mark Wahlberg.
Jim’s troubles begin when he amounts a massive debt to Mister Lee. He further buries himself when borrowing money from known gangster, Neville Baraka (Michael Kenneth Williams). He is given seven days to come up with the money he owes them, however as the days drag on, he seems to become less and less concerned with the stipulations of what happens to him if the money is not paid. This could be because his character has what could almost be considered an appreciation for suicide. He seems to believe that unless you are the best, you shouldn’t try and therefore suicide isn’t necessarily a bad option. With him being a professor of literature, I’m sure he finds something almost poetic in the act. This theme is made aware to him by his own student who is in fact the best at his sport, basketball, and yet doesn’t seem to find fulfillment from it since everyone has him stereotyped and pigeonholed as something other than how he wants to see himself.
Jim is clearly not a happy person. He has everything he could want: he comes from money, he has a good job, drives a nice car and he’s quite smart and yet he does everything he can to complicate his life. His all or nothing mentality is apparent when he wins big and then blows it all time after time. He even has the chance to climb out of the hole he’s dug himself into and instead decides to blow all that money severing the ties with his mother (Jessica Lange).
Having been approached by Frank (John Goodman), a loan shark, previously, Jim chooses to borrow money to pay back Mister Lee. I enjoy John Goodman as a card shark that manages to pepper in some paternal knowledge here and there. My favorite scene in the movie is him imparting the knowledge of the “F*ck you” mentality to Jim. It may not be the very best advice, but it definitely wasn’t the worst.
Knowing that he is now in debt to both Frank and Mister Lee, Jim uses this predicament as an opportunity to seize his all or nothing moment; the moment that he is constantly telling his students about; the high that he has craved his entire life. Does his gamble pay off? You’ll have to watch The Gambler to find out.