Saturday, November 29, 2014

The Gambler (1974)

Director: Karel Reisz
Writer:    James Toback
Cast:       James Caan, Paul Sorvino, Lauren Hutton

Alex Freed is a literature professor. He has the gambling addiction. When he has lost all his money, he borrows from his girlfriend, then his mother and finally some bad guy that starts chasing him. Despite all this he cannot stop gambling.

Film is semi-autobiographical based on James Toback who also was a professor with gambling problem. It is also seen as a loose adaptation of Fyodor Dostoyevsky's short story 'The Gambler'. One would expect a thrilling humorous film if you go by the title in similar lines to 'The Sting'. It is anything but. It reminded me of 'The Hustler', which was also a very serious film that I also went in thinking it would be a light one. It is a serious look at Gambling addiction  and posits that the addicts are people who look for prospects of losing to give them the fix of uncertainty associated with it. Freed himself says that he let go off bets that he knows has a high chance of winning in favor of longer odds one that would give him the necessary fix of uncertainty and pain. If that is not clear enough for the audience, you have got the end sequence of him behaving in a destructive manner at a non-gambling scenario when his gambling debts are on the clear. The film plays with the audience expectations giving them a protagonist who doesn't give them anything to root for and when the debts are cleared, we are also as uncomfortable as him since it ended up corrupting him. 

I don't know how credible this portrayal is for gambling addicts as a whole but at least it was like that for James Toback, who wrote the screenplay. It is getting remade by Rupert Wyatt (Mark Wahlberg as lead) after a Scorsese-DiCaprio remake project fell through. James Caan starring 'The Gambler' is a great watch with it being an adult look at gambling addiction without any glorification.

Rating: 4/5