Saturday 8 April 2023

Movie Review: The Gambler (1974)

Genre: Gambling Drama
Director: Karel Reisz
Starring: James Caan, Lauren Hutton, Paul Sorvino
Running Time: 111 minutes

Synopsis: In New York City, Axel Freed (James Caan) is a college professor of literature and in a relationship with girlfriend Billie (Lauren Hutton). He is also a compulsive gambler always looking for the thrill of the unlikely win, and ends a particularly bad night owing $44,000 to his bookie Hips (Paul Sorvino). Under pressure to pay-up, Axel's options include borrowing from his mother (Jacqueline Brooks), a doctor, or his wealthy but ailing grandfather (Morris Carnovsky). Even if he finds the cash, the temptation to risk it all on more gambling is strong.

What Works Well: Director Karel Reisz and writer James Toback create a sweaty mood of driven desperation, and James Caan invests in an addicted but self-aware character. Axel consciously gravitates towards the danger of high-risk betting, recognizing he needs the rush as nourishment. Figuring out how to repay his lenders before they break his bones is just another risk feeding his spirit. The film rides the emotional waves of winning and losing streaks, Axel oscillating between invincibility and misery, while the nonglamorous New York locations offer an equivalent contrast with the dazzle of a Las Vegas side trip.

What Does Not Work As Well: The final act loses both credibility and subtlety, featuring unrealistic betting on a local event then a non-gambling crossover into in-your-face psychological proclamations. 

Conclusion: A high quality exposition of low quality life decisions.

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