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May 28, 2015
The Gambler Blu-Ray Review
Cinema Release Blu-Ray Release Distributor Director
5/2/201527/5/2015Village RoadshowRupert Wyatt
Video Codec Sound Format OFLC Rating Star(s)
AVC MPEG-4DTS-HD MA 5.1MA15+Mark Wahlberg

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Mark Wahlberg is brilliant in The Gambler.

Mark Wahlberg is an actor we enjoy watching; be it in the action packed Transformers: Age of Extinction, the hilarious adult comedy Ted, or TV series Entourage he always stands out on the screen. Now he has turned his attention to the a more dramatic role in The Gambler.

Jim Bennett (Mark Wahlberg) is a risk taker. Both an English professor and a high-stakes gambler, Bennett bets it all when he borrows from a gangster (Michael Kenneth Williams) and offers his own life as collateral. Always one step ahead, Bennett pits his creditor against the operator of a gambling ring (Alvin Ing) and leaves his dysfunctional relationship with his wealthy mother (Jessica Lange) in his wake. He plays both sides, immersing himself in an illicit, underground world while garnering the attention of Frank (John Goodman), a loan shark with a paternal interest in Bennett’s future. As his relationship with a student (Brie Larson) deepens, Bennett must take the ultimate risk for a second chance...

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Brie Larson plays potential love interest Amy.
The Gambler, just as the title suggest, is a film which portrays the downward spiral which many gambling addicts face. Acting across the board is pretty impressive with Mark Wahlberg carrying the film as one would expect, although his dramatic weight loss for this role sees someone vastly different then his bulked up appearance in other films. Not only does that make his character here much more believable, but also takes us away from his more mucho characters into a new realm.

Without a doubt one of the biggest surprises in this film was the presence of John Goodman as Frank. We have to say, first of all, that he has plenty of balls in this film as there are a few scenes where it comes across as less then flattering - he's a big man, and seeing him topless is, well, not a pretty sight. But, he also has what we think is one of the greatest scenes we've seen in a while. A special "Fuck You" speech that is actually had me thinking about my own life.

Unfortunately we had a few issues with The Gambler including the fact that his university professor is potentially dating a student. Personally I think the film could have pushed the themes of gambling addiction if there was more on the line - a house or a family perhaps. While Brie Larson does a fine job as love interest Amy, it never sat well with me. Also while the film focuses on a single character and his addiction, you never see the full force of what these underground powerbrokers are capable of. They threaten to kill or maime those that can't repay debts, but you never see it.

Ultimately while it is an interesting enough film about gambling addiction, but it lacks the punch and pizazz that we saw in the Denzel Washington film Flight which focused on alcohol addiction. Having said that the acting is fairly good, so those who find the topic interesting, or who are indeed a fan of Mark Wahlberg, may want to check this out.

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Gambling with large amounts of cash.
The Gambler is presented on Blu-Ray in the films original 2.35:1 aspect ratio and it's a pretty impressive transfer as one would expect from such a recent film. The Gambler has a dark, realistic visual style to it, with a large number of dimly lit scenes although there are some occasional moments of vibrancy - be it the colourful chips in a casino devoid of colour, the bright lights at a Wildcats basketball match - but it's rare in an otherwise drab looking film.

The AVC MPEG-4 transfer, which has a bitrate that mostly sits around 30Mbps, does an admirable job of keeping the film looking pristine with fine detail retained even in the many darker scenes.

This is a very dialogue driven film and as such the lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 soundtrack is one that does everything right but rarely impresses. Most importantly dialogue is clear at all times while the music, when it is used, sounds fantastic from the thumping bass at 1:24:40, to the lovely orchestral music and singing at the end of the film with the Outro by M83.

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John Goodman - surprising, brilliant, unique.
There are plenty of other audio formats available on this disc including German, Spanish, French and Italian Dolby Digital 5.1 each encoded at 640kbps as well as an English Audio Description which is also encoded in that format. We sampled these tracks at various throughout the film and they were decent enough but of course lack the punch of the lossless track during the moments when music kicks in.

Subtitles are also available in a range of languages including Danish, German, English, Spanish, French, Italian, Dutch, Norwegian, Swedish, Finnish and English for the Hearing Impaired. Brief sampling of the English tracks demonstrated accuracy to the dialogue in the film.

There are a few bits of additional content on this disc, some of which is worth having a look at.

Mr Self Destruct: Inside The Gambler (14:12/HD): The Gambler was a film released in the 1970s starring James Caan, and this featurette looks at remaking the film and how the themes are still relevant in today’s society. Other topics covered in this featurette include the casting of Mark Whalberg and his weight loss to play the role, and filming the lengthy lecture scene on the first day.

Dark Before Dawn: The Descent of The Gambler (16:26/HD): This featurette details production of the film including using real locations around Los Angeles to add authenticity to the film, creating an authentic casino, working with the director Rupert Wyatt, and discussion of the ending.

Changing The Game: Adaptation (9:02/HD): Here the screenwriter and director talk about adapting from a previous work and how they adapted the story and scenes for a modern audience.

In The City: Locations (9:27/HD): Unsurprisingly this extra looks at some of the 40-odd locations around Los Angeles which were used to film The Gambler including problems with filming on live sets such as road works and noise, and trying to stay to budget.

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Gambling is expensive, it can cost your life!
Dressing the Players: Costume Design (7:49/HD): Costume Designer Jacqueline West discusses the costuming for the film, and it's fascinating how the Mark Wahlberg's characters clothing changes from back to white as the film progresses - and also changes as he lost more weight. Fascinating stuff that would go unnoticed to most.

Deleted & Extended Scenes (23:31/HD): Here we have two extended scenes (Jim's Lecture and A Born Teacher) and four Deleted Scenes (Big Ernie, Taxi Ride, Jim's Ex- Wife and Larry Jones). There's not really that much here that would have made a significant different to the final film.

The Gambler is a decent film, but nothing outstanding, while the Blu-Ray release has a solid transfer and a few extras worth your time. Overall, this is probably a rental for most unless you're a big Mark Wahlberg fan.

Review By: Dave Warner


Note: All images in this article are Copyright© Paramount. They are only indicative of the movie and not sourced from the vastly superior Blu-Ray disc format.