Mark Wahlberg plays the title role in “The Gambler,” and his character is probably one of the most self-destructive that I’ve seen in movie history.  Wahlberg has a knack for winning early in whatever games he plays (usually blackjack or roulette), but he just doesn’t know when to quit; and that is what leads to his ever increasing problems, the biggest being Wahlberg owing large amounts to 3 different gangsters.  His solution to his problems?  Borrow more money from the same gangsters and hope to win his way out of the deep hole he put himself in.

I believe most viewers will not like Wahlberg’s character, as he is abrasive and puts the lives of those who care for him (his mother (Jessica Lange) and sometime girlfriend (Brie Larson)) in jeopardy because of his addiction.  But those who have ever had a monkey on their back will be more forgiving, as they know firsthand how destructive and hard to kick an addiction is.

However you size up Wahlberg, he will not bore you.  It’s like watching a runaway train that is doomed for a devastating wreck at some point.  Although “The Gambler” isn’t an action movie, it had my heart pumping like it was.  Scenes that had Wahlberg betting thousands of dollars — and in some cases, hundreds of thousands — had me feeling like I was there and I was the one making those huge, dangerous bets.  Oh, that excitement of either winning large or losing large, that’s one of the addictive qualities of gambling.

One of my memorable moments of this movie is the first gambling scene.  Wahlberg comes in with ten thousand dollars, and bets it all on one hand of blackjack.  He wins, and lets it all ride on the next hand.  Win, repeat.  Cool as can be, as if he’s betting ten dollars.  Of course, no lucky streak lasts forever.

My most memorable, movie moment of “The Gambler” is the scene when Wahlberg reveals to Larson that if he can’t have it all, he’d rather die.  To be or not to be; all or nothing.  Of course, there is more to his behavior than what Wahlberg states.  He’s a degenerate gambler, therefore, even if he gets everything that he wants and needs, he still has that desire to gamble.  And how long before he loses it all and is right back where he started?

For those still struggling with their gambling habit: the only way to win at gambling is to not gamble at all.  Yes, I know, easier said than done.  Despite all the science out there about gamblers having different brain reactions to gambling; and gambling addiction is a disease…bottom line, we all have a choice.

— M