The Gambler Review – 1974 vs 2014 Film Comparison

In the Gambler review, here we are going to compare the original movie from 1974, starring James Caan, and its remake from 2014, featuring Mark Wahlberg. And since we are experts on gambling but not so much on movies (yeah, turns out IMDB reviews don't count as a qualification), we devoted a whole week on comparing reviews of real film critics and will present you the top 3 ratings for each version. Is this just another case when the remake butchered the original story? Let's see!

The Gambler 1974 vs The Gambler 2014

We are going to start with the comparison right away but later on, in the article, you will be able to learn curious details about each movie. And if you are the kind of person who likes to dig deep into any subject, you will find the pro section in the last part where we will tell you how Dostoevsky’s novel The Gambler is related to the movies.

What Do Critics Think of the Gambler Film?

Now we’re not going to sugarcoat the Gambler review you are about to read. Critics aren’t very keen on the remake of the movie. They either blame it on the screenwriter or the director or the lead, but no matter the source of their disappointment, the verdict is not quite in favour of The Gambler 2014. Some even go as far as saying it was a totally unnecessary new adaptation. Let’s have a look at the top 3 critics comparisons of the Gambler below.

John Patterson – the Guardian. While this critic is very pleased with the cast, the director and the screenwriter, he thinks that although everything sounds good on paper, the final result is a ‘dud’. He blames this dull result on ‘the Machine’ (aka the Hollywood stereotypical film industry). He finds the biggest flaws of the Gambler film remake is that it is very clean and sterile – there was no mystery and drama in Wahlberg’s acting compared to the rough James Caan presence.

Full of post-hippie fatalism and cynical macho barroom existentialism, the original film feels very much of its era, and the remake anachronistic. Liam Lacey, Canadian Film Critic

Manohla Dargis – The New York Times. The Gambler review of this critic is even more bitter when it comes to the remake calling it ‘sad’ and ‘absurd’, whereas the original is labelled as ‘beautifully directed’. What this critic dislikes most about the new version is the fact that the movie has been ‘bowdlerised’, thus making the intensity of the character’s need to gamble very unclear. She describes the villains (John Goodman and Jessica Lange) in the film as cartoonish, the supporting actress Brie Larson ornamental, and Mark Wahlberg handling the long monologues of his character as the ‘rapper he once was’.

The Gambler IMDB, Rotten Tomatoes and Metacritic Ratings

You can see in the table below that the Gambler IMDB, Rotten Tomatoes and Metascore ratings are in favour of the original movie. After all the bad critic reviews we read, that’s hardly any surprise. But even if we ignore the pros and put this down to them being too pretentious, the viewers’ ratings are even less favourable. Most viewers can’t get past the fact that Walhberg’s cast as Jim Benett, who is a college literature professor.

Movie IMDB Rating Rotten Tomatoes Rating Metascore Rating
The Gambler 1974 7,2/10 78% 65
The Gambler 2014 6,1/10 44% 55

The Gambler 1974 – the Original Movie Starring James Caan

The storyline of the Gambler 1974 is quite simple – a man in his mid-thirties is a literature professor by day and a gambler by night. After losing $44,000 on poker, he is about to get in big trouble with his mafioso bookies. He borrows the money from his rich mother but simply cannot resist the temptation to risk it all again.

The Gambler 1974 Original Movie
Directed by Karel Reisz
Screenplay James Toback
Starring James Caan, Paul Sorvino, Lauren Hutton
Runtime 111 min
Production Company Paramount Pictures
Release Date October 2, 1974

James Caan is the perfect cast for the role of Axel Freed because of his rough masculine presence on the screen. Reportedly he was fighting a cocaine addiction during the filming process, so that might be a good explanation why he was so convincing in the role of a compulsive gambler. In this version of the Gambler film, his mother is a well-respected doctor, and his grandfather is aged but still really vital. He is the embodiment of the American dream, having come to America broke and fought hard to succeed. He now owns a chain of furniture shops.

The Gambler 1974 Review

The Gambler 1974 original movie is often described as being a thriller disguised as a drama. A classic character study of a personality type, it shows us the main character chasing the ultimate thrill of risking everything in an attempt to test and prove himself worthy in a world where he comes from the privileged background of a rich family. Unlike his grandfather, Axel has no challenge in his life, and this is why he is so bitter with himself.

What critics liked best about the Gambler 1974 is the suspense that is building up right to the last minute of the movie. This was undoubtedly a team effort. The Czech director Karel Reisz managed to make good use of both Toback’s script and Caan’s acting, although this was his first Hollywood movie. He used different cinematography techniques to add to the pressure. Slowly zooming Caan’s face in moments of tough decisions and repetitive use of an intense Mahler overture are just a few of the tricks he uses.

The Gambler 2014 – the Sequel Featuring Mark Walhberg

The backbone of the story is the same in the Gambler film remake with only slight differences in the details, which do not change the course of the events. This time the protagonist is called Jim Bennet, and his debt is well over $240,000, which puts him in the unfavourable position to ask his rich tennis-playing cougar mom for it.

The Gambler 2014 Remake
Directed by Rupert Wyatt
Screenplay James Toback
Starring Mark Wahlberg, Jessica Lange, John Goodman
Budget $25,000,000
Runtime 111 min
Production Company Paramount Pictures, Winkler Films
Release Date December 25 2014

This time around, the grandfather (George Kennedy) is at his death bed, and the only inheritance he is willing to give his grandson (Mark Wahlberg) is a sort of a curse: “you’re me now if you’ll have it”. This leads the protagonist to a series of decisions that supposedly have to assert him and his own worth, but they go from bad to worse. He not only gets in debt, but it’s like he doesn’t even care if he wins or loses.

Unlike James Caan’s character, whose manic logic convinced him to bet his mom’s money and try to double it so that he could repay both his bookies and his mom, it’s like Mark Wahlberg’s character does not even try to come out of this mess. So, you’ll be basically watching a self-destructive man who doesn’t give a damn about his situation.

Another problem many viewers and critics see with the Gambler 2014 is Mark Wahlberg’s miscast as a professor. The action hero is trying his best to look sophisticated when whipping up a pair of reading glasses in one of his classes, but the result is (unintentionally) comic. It’s really hard to get the image of thug hard-bodied Marky Mark in the iconic 1992 Calvin Klein underwear shot out of our minds and start thinking of him as a professor who analyses Thoreau.

And finally, there’s the gambling part. It’s very weird that they decided not to show what the blackjack dealer had because it would have really added to the suspense. Quite often, Jim’s decisions about whether to hit or stand are inexplicable to the experienced gamblers and incomprehensible to the people who don’t play blackjack casino games. It’s just wrong to have a movie named the Gambler covering the gambling topic so superficially.

The Inspiration – The Gambler by Dostoevsky

There’s a short autobiographical novel by the brilliant Russian author Dostoevsky with the same name that he supposedly wrote as a way to get out of a gambling debt himself. Neither of the Gambler film versions we discussed is an actual adaptation of this novel, but both have some connections to it. For example, the Gambler 1974 protagonist is called Axel, which is quite similar to the novel’s main character Alexei. The student-teacher love relationship may have also been lifted from Dostoevsky’s biography because he is known to have loved a much younger woman.

Interesting fact:
Dostoevsky made a bet with a publisher that he would finish a substantial novel in a few months or else lose control of his publishing rights for nine months. He would dictate parts of his story to his soon-to-be wife, and she would put them neatly together. With her help, he managed to win this bet and not lose his rights!

Our Take on The Gambler – Is It Worth Watching at All?

We will be closing the Gambler review with our humble opinion about the latest movie starring Mark Walhberg. We are talking here as average viewers; we know nothing about cinematography or high art (which is okay because this is not high art either). But we know a lot about gambling sites so we just had to watch this movie.

The Gambler film is actually more than okay for a lazy Sunday evening. It has some momentum, the cast is solid, and in the end, the movie kind of rebuts its own statement that: ‘life is a losing proposition’, so it has a sort of a happy end. This is not Cannes material; it is not artsy and not in the least provoking deep thoughts and feelings. You will not be shaken by it. But it compellingly shows a great human archetype, and we think it’s worth two hours of your time, especially if you are a gambler yourself.

FAQ

We are going to close the Gambler review with a neat FAQ section so that you don’t have to scroll back and forth until you find the answer you are looking for. These are the most commonly met questions viewers had about the film. Spoiler alert: the last question gives away the ending so if you still haven’t watched the film, you might want to skip it!

📖 Is the gambler based on a true story?

You could say it is because the Gambler film inspiration comes from the short autobiographical novel by the Russian author Dostoevsky. As for the movies, they are loosely based on Dostoevsky's novella, but the plot is the same.

🎲 What is the film The Gambler about?

Quite literary, the film is about a gambler who is so much in debt that he is forced to gamble even more to try to get out of it. Metaphorically, the Gambler review here shows it is about the Absurd condition theory by the philosopher Albert Camus stating that humans should embrace the fact that life is meaningless and reject all hope.

🎞️ Is the gambler a remake?

Yes, The Gambler 2014 starring Mark Wahlberg is indeed a remake of the homonymous movie from 1974 featuring James Caan. Both films are loosely based on the short novel the Gambler by Dostoevsky, dating back to 1866.

🎭 What was the point of the movie The Gambler?

Some critics say it goes to show that no matter how privileged you are, no matter what education, intellect or lifestyle you have, you could still be affected by a gambling problem. And although the Gambler IMDB ratings are not super impressive, we'd say it's worth watching because it will get your brain working.

⚠️ How does the gambler end?

Spoiler alert here. The Gambler 1974 ending is a happy one (after all that's a Hollywood movie. Bennett (Mark Wahlberg) manages to outsmart both his bookies and pay them back with a double-cross. He then runs out of the dark illegal Korean casino into the daylight, debt-free and ready to start a new life with his new love Amy (Brie Larson).

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