Monday, April 9, 2012

Day 355 - The Gambler

The Gambler (1974) directed by Karel Reisz

It's always funny when you watch a movie that could basically be about you. I kind of feel that way about any movie about gambling since I could always find something to relate to; the uncontrollable itch, the thrill of victory, the soul crushing losses, the self loathing afterwards, the glimmer of hope, the despair, the highs, the lows, the smoothness of the dice, the anxiety of the next card, praying on a longshot, the feeling of cold hard cash, searching through your empty pockets, betting money you can't afford to lose, winning money so you can bet even bigger, bemoaning your bad luck when deep down inside you know you're destined to lose, the self destruction. I know these feelings all too well, perhaps not as much as Axel Freed does in The Gambler, but I'd be lying if I said I haven't been just as stupid as he is at times in this movie.

James Caan plays Axel Freed, a gambling junkie who is in for $44,000 to some very bad people. It's money that he does not have yet he doesn't seem too worried. All he needs is one big rush and everything will be better. But of course we all know how that turns out. His mother bails him out and gets him the money but instead of paying off his debts he instead gambles even more and even bigger. His girlfriend asks him, "What if you lose?" He replies back, "I'm not going to lose. I'm going to gamble!" During a hot streak in Vegas he doubles down on a hard 18 which is obviously ridiculous. Someone tells him that he is crazy. He replies back, "I'm not crazy. I'm blessed." There are some all time classic gambling quotes in this film for its sheer absurdity and awesomeness.

The plot develops the way you would expect, with Axel's gambling addiction spiraling out of control as his world collapses around him. This is one of the best films I've seen in dealing with the issues of gambling addiction as it captures the desperation of Axel's character so well. (The best film I've seen about gambling addiction is Owning Mahowny) What also makes the character work is the actor who plays him, James Caan, who delivers his lines like a true junkie and is generally awesome. I could see a bit of myself in the character which was kind of funny and scary at the same time. That could very well be me in ten years!

Grade: B+

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