In the movie, directed by "Rise of the Planet of the Apes" helmer Rupert Wyatt and written by "The Departed" scribe William Monahan, Wahlberg stars as a literary professor by day, high-stakes gambler by night, who falls deeper and deeper into dangerous pockets. Jim Bennett's taking big risks with his life, but should moviegoers make the same gamble on Wahlberg's latest?
Here's the verdict, based on what critics are saying:
Setting the Stakes
"'The Gambler' details a week in the life of a desperate man. Setting a ticking clock is an easy way to get the audience hooked early. In 'A Most Violent Year,' someone signs a business deal that has a hard 30-day-pay-or-quit clause built in, and you know that you're going to see every second of every one of those days of someone struggling to meet that deadline. In this film, from the start, they're telling you there are seven days left. Then six. Then five. We see we're counting backwards. To what, we're not sure, and the movie keeps you guessing until the final insane act. Jim Bennett (Wahlberg) is never presented as anything less than a degenerate, a man who will seriously do anything in pursuit of a very specific high. He's just good enough to make it heartbreaking, and he's just smart enough to know what he's doing to himself.
"There are people who care. A little bit. His mother Roberta (Jessica Lange). A student, Amy, who he takes an interest in (Brie Larson). And a basketball player who is starting to stare down a metaphorical shot clock (Anthony Kelley), who looks at Jim as an honest man in his own depravity." — Drew McWeeny, HitFix
Eye on the Mark
"In Rupert Wyatt’s highball-cool reworking of Karel Reisz’s 1974 'The Gambler,' Mark Wahlberg does not play a cop, does not shoot bad guys with a gun, and does not spend considerable time shirtless (though we do see him sulking in a bathtub, and there’s a fleeting wet T-shirt moment, too). Unable to fall back on any of his trademarks, Wahlberg, playing a disillusioned literature professor who springs to life only at the gaming table, must work mostly with his eyes. …
"You can’t really like Jim, but you can’t help feeling something for him, either. The focus is always on his eyes, whether they’re fixed on the chips stacked before him or the dealer glowering warily back at him. For an actor who’s made a career, especially of late, off excessive muscular swagger, Wahlberg can do a lot with a glance -- you know there’s a wounded puppy behind Jim’s wildcat glare." — Stephanie Zacharek, The Village Voice
The Supporting Players
"As with 'The Fighter,' everyone around Wahlberg is generally better than him, but unlike that movie, he’s never overshadowed here, as much as he raises his game to match the quality of the other actors. It leads to one terrific sequence after as each of these supporting characters inject themselves into Bennett’s life as he gets deeper and deeper into trouble. John Goodman is particularly good as an outspoken loan shark that offers to help Bennett get over his problems, as is Lange who has reached her wit’s end with her son’s gambling." — Edward Douglas, Coming Soon
Sticking to the Script
"Dialogue, we seem to have forgotten, matters, and the words — by the brutally funny screenwriter of 'The Departed,' William Monahan — are electric eels, slithering and sinister and nasty. They sneak up and sting you, or sometimes tickle your toes. Lowlifes don’t actually talk this way? Yeah. But if only they did." — Kyle Smith, New York Post
The Final Word
"The movie stumbles only in its closing scenes, coming up with an ending that’s too pat and obvious, but the rest of 'The Gambler' is surprisingly effective at letting you know what it feels like when you’re dangling from the edge of the rope every minute of every day and you’re too tired — or unwilling — to pull yourself back up."— Rene Rodriguez, The Miami Herald
"The Gambler" is in theaters now.