The Gambler

Movie review by
Jeffrey M. Anderson, Common Sense Media
The Gambler Movie Poster Image
Uneven remake makes gambling look dangerous, alluring.
  • R
  • 2014
  • 111 minutes

Parents say

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Kids say

age 16+
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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Messages

A bit of warning against excessive gambling, although the main character escapes from his life-or-death scrape by a hair's breadth and pays no consequences for his actions. (The movie even celebrates him being totally broke.)

Positive Role Models & Representations

Even though he's a beloved professor, the main character isn't a role model. He comes from a rich family and behaves recklessly and selfishly, perhaps believing that someone will bail him out whenever he gets into trouble. He's a slave to his gambling, even though he claims that he's "not a gambler."

Violence

A character is tied up in a chair and punched in the face. Fighting, punching. Some blood. General tension, shouting, arguing, and anxiety.

Sex

In a strip club, women's naked breasts are shown. Kissing and implied sex between a professor and a student.

Language

Very strong, constant language: "f--k," "s--t," "piss," "motherf----r," "a--hole," "p---y," "scumbag."

Consumerism
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

The main character drinks a bottle of alcohol and passes out in his home.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that The Gambler is a remake of a same-named 1974 drama and stars Mark Wahlberg. Expect some violence -- punching, fighting, and a little blood, as well as shouting and arguing and general tension. Language is extremely strong, with multiple uses of "f--k" and "s--t." Topless women are seen in a strip club, and the main character kisses one of his students, with implied sex. The main character also drinks heavily and passes out. The movie has enough detail to be considered a cautionary tale against gambling, but at the same time it makes gambling look dangerously alluring. And even though the main character is a much-liked professor, he's in no way a positive role model.

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What's the story?

Literature professor Jim Bennett (Mark Wahlberg) is deeply in debt at an underground gambling establishment, and he only has seven days to pay it back. He borrows from a loan shark, Neville (Michael Kenneth Williams), and loses again. He borrows from his mother (Jessica Lange) and loses still more. In class, he encourages a pretty student, Amy (Brie Larson), and initiates a vaguely inappropriate relationship with her. Meanwhile, another of his students is top basketball player Lamar (Anthony Kelley); pressured by Neville, Jim reluctantly coaxes Lamar to throw the big game. Then, to pay off everything -- including a debt to a shady, verbose underworld figure (John Goodman) -- Jim bets everything he has on a spin of the roulette wheel.

Is it any good?

THE GAMBLER is yet another Hollywood remake, and, as usual, it's not as good as the original. In this case, that would be the superior The Gambler (1974), which was directed by Karel Reisz, written by James Toback, and starred James Caan. That movie captured a moment, while the remake merely copies one. Still, taking the new movie all by itself, it does have a certain kind of resonance. And, like the original, it also has something to say about the human condition.

Wahlberg is mesmerizing in the lead role, reckless and assured but helplessly drawn to underworld life -- and at the same time confronting his students with harsh realities about writing. Writer William Monahan (The Departed) crafts a script full of stylized dialogue, giving actors like John Goodman snappy stuff to chew on. And director Rupert Wyatt plunges his characters into a slick-sleazy vision of a gambler's world. In a way, it's more alluring and less profound than the original, but enough of a cautionary tale that it's still worth a look.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about The Gambler's violence. How much is shown, and how is it used? How does the movie suggest that the main character is in danger?

  • Does the movie's romantic, sexual relationship between the professor and his student seem appropriate?

  • What does the main character learn from his ordeal? Does it seem like he's finished, or will he get into more trouble?

  • Does this movie make gambling look alluring or dangerous? Do you think that was the intent?

  • Why do drinking and gambling seem to go together so often in movies?

Movie details

For kids who love dramatic thrills

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