Back in 1974, New York born writer and director James Toback was able to draw on his personal experiences with gambling as well as his experiences with teaching whilst he taught creative writing to students at the City College of New York, and the result was the screenplay for The Gambler. James Caan starred as Axel Freed, a literature professor, who has a serious gambling habit that soon takes over his life, leaving him owing a number of people including some unscrupulous loan sharks. Caan has stated this was one of his favourite roles of his career, and just recently it was actor Mark Wahlberg who took over the role in the Rupert Wyatt helmed remake.
The original screenplay was initially set to be a semi-autobiographical book based on Toback’s life, however it was during this writing process where he suddenly began to realise that it would make a better movie. Originally it was legendary actor Robert DeNiro who was being lined up for the lead role which eventually went to Caan who was also reprising his role as Sonny Corleone in Francis Ford Coppola’s crime sequel The Godfather: Part II the same year.
As with many movie remakes treading old familiar ground can be tiresome, particularly for die-hard fans of the original. Not that the 1974 version of The Gambler will be that familiar to many movie fans, in fact most cinema goers that managed to catch the new version in theatres may not have even been aware they were watching a remake. The 2014 version does follow a very similar route as the original with just a few various character adjustments and other plot details mixed around to help set it more in modern times but the crux of the story is still there.
Wahlberg was typically a strong lead as expected but it is very difficult to watch another actor walk the path of a role bought to life by an acting giant, and in this case the great James Caan. American Horror Story star Jessica Lange, who plays the role of the lead character’s mother, garnered most praise for her memorable part almost stealing the entire show in many respects.
Let’s face it, the main character could have really used a big win to sort out most of his problems in the movie, much like these Euro Palace biggest wins ever, but the remake does have a lot of inconsequential back and forth. Whilst the original version of The Gambler has a certain charm about it, this bland redo somehow fails to hit the mark leaving little for viewers to really learn of redemption or addiction or to actually care at all about the characters and what ultimately happens to them.
Watch the trailer for The Gambler (1974) here:
Watch the trailer for The Gambler (2014) here: