Paramount did not win Award Season 2015. In fact, the studio failed miserably. It hedged its best on Interstellar and when the movie did not live up to expectations, the backlash was severe. Unjustly so, in my opinion. Selma failed to have screeners available for SAG Nominating Committee members with few screenings prior to the voting deadline. And there was virtually no campaigning for The Gambler. When I finally rented it this week from Redbox, it was apparent the little that Paramount did do for the movie was way too much. And thank God, I get free Redbox codes.

As awful as the movie is, every writer should see the movie.


We Get it

Every single scene in the movie goes on for at least five minutes, if not more. Sorry, I couldn’t bear to watch a single second more than I had to. I was doing housework and documenting my collectibles while watching or else I would have shut it off. Granted, the first scene where Mark Wahlberg’s character loses more money than he came in with constricted my gambling throat a bit. But it also choked out my patience. Watching someone else playing Blackjack is just not that interesting. The second scene was a classroom scene that was less interesting than most university lectures. A long debate about what is good writing threw in commentary about Shakespeare and the origins of genius and fuck knows what else. Speaking of “fuck,” there’s an absolutely torturous scene with John Goodman and Wahlberg about having a “fuck you” attitude that is endless in his attempts to be witty, never ending and minor variations on a theme. It fucking doesn’t work on screen.

Lesson from The Gambler: Make your point and move on.


Witty Writing is Not Enjoyable to Watch

The writing went beyond what Aaron Sorkin and David Mamet offer up. It was worse than any poorly adapted play-to-screen can conjure. Forget that most of the film was people bickering and debating and verbally masturbating. The dialogue had no emotional foundation. It achieved no forward momentum of the plot. In fact, it seldom was related to the plot. The dialogue was witty for the sake of being witty. And it was irritating as hell. Whatever side of the fence you fall in on with Sorkin and Mamet, you’d rather pull one of those posts off and stake yourself in the heart in hearing the abysmal dialogue from The Gambler.

Lesson from The Gambler: You’re Not Trying To Make IMDB’s Quotable List with Your Dialogue

The Waitress Does Not Need a Backstory

I rather enjoy Pilar Alessandra’s On The Page podcast. 90% of the ones I listened to were helpful, and I listened to several of the episodes more than once, especially the ones with guests Carol Kirschner and Paul Guyot. Last week’s episode was with the writer of Age of Adaline, and I someone mentioned that all the characters should have a backstory. I listened to this soon after I watched The Gambler. I very much disagree. The one-liner waitress does not need a backstory. In the movie, she quips about having 30-somewhat beers to choose from, chastising Wahlberg’s indecisiveness and saying “Don’t put it on me.” To use the word the movie was so delightedly fond of using, what the fuck does that achieve? Did it fulfill the world? Did it intrigue me? Did it forward the plot? It did nothing but entirely frustrate me at the complete waste of time that I spent listening to her quip. And it wasn’t even funny. Instead of being transported into another world, the line took me out of it and said to me, “Look what a great writer I am.” Yeah, not fun to watch.

Seedy Chinatown Underground

As “inventive” the script would like to be, it relies on worn-out tropes such as the seedy underground that is Chinatown or at least Hollywood’s version of it. Smoke filled, den of iniquity populated with the unsavory and unscrupulous Asians, it’s as if the screenwriter expended all his creativity coming up with ‘impressive lines’ that he couldn’t come up with characters and scenes straight of stereotypes.

I shudder to think how the original movie that the Wahlberg film is based on is.

There are a host of other things that only a bad movie like The Gambler teaches to filmmakers, but I spent way too much thinking about it. Granted, the artistes probably appreciate it the way they do Tree of Life, Inherent Vice, or Locke calling it “pure.”

For the rest of us, it’s fucking boring and infuriating.


–Ken Choy



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