111 Minutes. Starring: Mark Wahlberg, Brie Larson, Michael K. Williams, Jessica Lange & John Goodman. Director: Rupert Wyatt.
All on Mark! Wahlberg is all in, to the score of being the ‘Six Million Dollar’ man. You better check this Mark’s hand, because he’s got the hot one. Just like his early days plays of ‘Three Kings’ and ‘Four Brothers’. A ‘Perfect Storm’ for this ‘Lone Survivor’ of the star stock market rise and fall of the Hollywood hills. Sure he’s been dealt some bad hands. That’s just ‘Pain and Gain’ for you. Still he’s bet big and cashed in on franchise face cards from the metal to the fur with ‘Transformers’ and ‘Ted’. All whilst concealing some of his best deals with that Cruise/Keanu blending in picture poker face, with hidden gems like ‘Contraband’ and other thrillers like ‘We Own The Night’, ‘2 Guns’ ‘Broken City’ and now this one. Still amongst all the fun (‘The Other Guys’) and games (‘The Fighter’), the man whose cashed in and played with more chips than McDonalds always had an ace in the hole with his Academy Award nominated ‘The Departed’. You got to love this guys hustle. Now reuniting with ‘Departed’ writer William Monahan, Wahlberg invites a ‘Planet Of The Apes’ (no not his one) director Rupert Wyatt to the table to play their cards at remaking a 1973 James Caan film, complete with an up to date soundtrack your hipster friend would be O.M.G. jealous of and a cinematographic look of the city of angels, Los Angeles that one of their Instagram filters could never quite do so digitally proud. For the look and feel of this cool and slick picture, this ‘Gambler’ pays off.
But buyer and gamble aware, the Hollywood house always wins. This is no suckers bet, but in card comparison to his unsung numbers its no sure thing. That doesn’t mean its not a decent deal however and with a slight of hand slick move it pulls something out of its ass that is all real and no magic. Tricking the eye before your silver screens, the muscle of Mark is slimmed down (a great way of the frame pairing a portrait of a man down on his luck and time) to an almost gaunt Dylanesque look, complete with those trademark shades that either cover a black eye, or one hell of a night. It just might be both as this Jack wears the same suit, trying to find the perfect one to pay off more gangsters and debts than a failed hip-hop star. In this ‘Oceans Eleven’ our lead may find himself sleeping with the fishes if he doesn’t break a leg in this game of chance. Oh the irony. Breaking if he does, broken if he doesn’t. Wahlberg perfectly plays a former best-selling novelist, lecturing English as his new day job and moonlighting in some extra curricula activities as profitable and headache inducing as moonshine. He talks a good game and lectures one too. Preaching at his class to lead better lives, all whilst talking himself out of losing his. Facing off against it all Wahlberg plays it straight and flushed. This ace is smoking.
Just like Brie Larson, an actress really coming into her own and showing substance in this cigarettes and coffee picture. ‘Scott Pilgrim’ and ’21 Jump Street’ made her a face in this game. Stealing the show with a few words of worldly wisdom over some anti-social smart phoning in ‘Don Jon’ and now this co-star of real chips down support, now shows Larson id the real deal. Count more cards however and you’ll find a classy call of a cast. From young, ‘Place Beyond The Pines’ standout Emory Cohen, to ‘King Kong’ and ‘Big Fish’, Oscar winning legend Jessica Lange. Still in Wahlberg’s mark its the people who he owes money to that you can really bank on. ‘The Wire’s’ Omar and ‘Boardwalk Empire’s’ Chalky, Michael K. Williams is cigar smoking cool, finally getting the bigger role he worked so hard for and royaly deserves. No more spare seconds of scene in ’12 Years A Slave’ or dreaded ‘Robocop’ pictures. Still, however the biggest and best gamble hers lies with the great man Goodman. Or shall we say sitting here with dear John, draped in a towel and sauna sweat, bic shaving the scalp, looking like a mighty Moby Dick monster of a man complete with gangster goatee and grimaces. And lets not forgive that stare and the glaring threats that provide all fire and no smoke to those burning holes. ‘The Artist’, ‘Argo’, ‘Flight’, ‘Inside Llewyn Davis’ and ‘The Monuments Men’. John Goodman has been racking up the star standouts in some Oscar nominated or worthy films for some years now. He’s only a few more scenes and Oscar away. Still the voice that joined Wahberg as a ‘Transformer’ in last years ‘Age Of Extinction’ brings his sinister and best in years. Character acting has rarely felt and looked the part this much. All in all this tale and take of addiction in a heavily gambling money, cash cow advertised world is hard to resist. Sure detoxing critics have left this at a debt and of course this writer will love any film with a well done basketball scene played in, but still this is a strong suit. From its wheel of fortune, ball spinning logo start to its slick direction cut of the deck. Still if the ever playable Wahlberg wants to hit real riches again in his career catalogue, he’ll have to go to something that’s more of a sure thing. No more bets! TIM DAVID HARVEY.