Criminals in The Gambler (2015)

A film about a self-destructive English professor who owes a number of gangster a huge amount of money. Mark Wahlberg plays a privileged university lecturer and ex-novelist which opens the movie up for critical analysis and the more I think about the movie, the less I think I like the movie. Or least the less I like what the movie represents.

On the surface there is some gambling (as you’d expect from the title), there is some existential angst (he is an English professor) and there is a little romance (did I mention he was an English professor). If you are following the main character’s search for meaning or success in life, you are following a version of Fight Club less elegantly portrayed and without Brad Pitt.

The gangster reminded me of Guy Richie’s self-indulgent narrative mess Revolver in they verge between stereotypes and teachers who attempt to deliver life less after taking on role of surrogate fathers. John Goodman actually refers to himself as an Uncle. Goodman’s ‘fuck you’ philosophy is an attempt to guide Wahlberg into an awareness of what he wants out of life. Other gangsters indulge Wahlberg’s character with almost unending support that exceeds even his mother’s own generosity (we’ll get to her in a moment). They reprimand his bad behaviour. What else are goons for? And they ultimately release him into the world. Were you trying to pretend the film might not have a happy ending? We end up criminal who are racial stereotypes out to help Wahlberg, celebrating and relishing his successes.

It is the releasing of Wahlberg back into the world that is ultimately most perplexing about the criminals. These are friendly criminals. As Wahlberg’s debt grew increasingly larger I began to feel frustrated. Why the hell would they throw money away on this guy? He is obvious a self-destructive gambler. They had to see that. When they threatened his mother it was irrelevant.

Which brings me to him mother who isn’t a criminal, but Wahlberg mentions Hamlet so a brief moment about his mother. I liked the literary allusion to the play. Wahlberg’s mother rejected her father and enjoys a love/hate relationship with her son. She flatters and adores him while also being frustrated by his dependence. Wahlberg seems to need to push her into a position to reject him because he seems incapable of releasing himself from his mother’s attentions. I suppose that is one way getting out of mother’s day.

When threats are made against a couple of Wahlberg’s students I felt there was appropriate narrative movement. It made sense. It didn’t make sense that Wahlberg cared or that after he was able to resolve all of his own self-inflicted debt with a far-fetched game of chance, all was forgiven. What this movie could have used was a more tragic Hamlet inspired ending with Wahlberg achieving a self-realisation at a moment too late to resolve the destruction that his actions would inevitably bring upon himself and others. I could have used a ‘finding yourself screws everyone around you’ message. But that might have been asking too much.

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