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The Gambler

review by Zach B.



Rated: R

Running Time: 110 minutes

Starring: James Caan, Paul Sorvino, Lauren Hutton

Written by: James Toback

Directed by: Karel Reisz


Studio: Paramount

Retail Price: $24.99

Features: None

Specs: 1.85:1 Anamorphic Widescreen, English Mono, French Mono, English Subtitles, English Closed Captions, Scene Selection (13 Scenes)

Released: May 14th, 2002



James Caan is Axel Freed, a New York University literature professor who has one archilles heel: gambling. Axel is addicted to gambling and can't seem to stop. He's pretty bad at it too, losing money, begging to borrow cash from those he knows and loved ones and eventually, falling into a 40,000 dollar debt from the mob. Axel must pay back the mob and come to terms with his addiction, and realize what he has left.

James Toback, a rather famous if not low key force in Hollywood, wrote this movie (it's the first film he wrote, actually) and it is based on some of his experiences, so in many senses this film is autobiographical. This film is actually pretty deep and offers unique symbolisms and parallels. Check out the first ten minutes or so, when Axel is teaching a class and discusses human desire. The dialogue and how the scene plays out with his student foreshadows a lot, and is very true to the content of the film. Toback creates some rather gripping and intense characters, and I'm assuming there is a lot of him in Axel. Axel is quite a flawed character who keeps going on and clings on to some false hope. He enjoys gambling, but he keeps on doing it despite it all, thinking the situation that has made his life hell will make it all better. It's pretty sad, actually. The writing keeps the movie going in different and new directions all the way until the end. It establishes Axel as a pretty decent guy who just gets mixed up due to his own faults. He's a quick witted and intelligent man, but just can't help and realize what's happening to him. This film is compelling and offers a lot of themes about false hope, addiction and what it brings to not only one person, but those around that very person. It's heartbreaking and sad that some people just don't know when to stop, and when they do, it's too late.

A superb cast makes this movie all the more intriguing. James Caan is great as Axel, and his performance in this movie ranks as some of his best work. He plays a carefree guy who has a lot of potential, but his love of gambling and inability to think of the future ruins him. Caan plays the character to the bone. He's charming, but deeply troubled. Lauren Hutton is quite good in her brief scenes, while Paul Sorvino, once again, plays a fine character type role and is stellar. In the end, "The Gambler" ranks as a very good character study, and shows the effects of dangerous addictions. Very nice film if you're into drama.


The film is presented in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen. For a film that's nearly thirty years old, it looks pretty good. It appears that Paramount didn't really clean it up too much, but for what it is, it's suitable. The main problem, which I found quit edistracting, is the major grain and rather soft look the film offers. Other than that, little flaws like pieces of dirt and blemishes appear here and there. The transfer features some incredibly slight edge enhancment that I doubt anyone will notice (you have to look real hard), while detail is pretty good, colors are a little undersaturated and fleshtones are nothing too special. Overall, decent at best.


Mono tracks in English and French are included, and are pretty decent for what they are. I listened to the French dub a little... it's a pretty bad dub, but there if you need it. Dialogue is clear and easy to hear, while the other sound elements remain nicely intact (the mob beatdown in chapter 3 is somewhat thrilling, actually). Still, it all sounds a bit low and as you'd expect, the dynamics aren't much. Like the video, it's pretty average. Also included for your reading pleasure are English subtitles, and English closed captions via your television set.


Nothing at all...


"The Gambler" is a pretty terrific movie and an intriguing character study about addiction and desperation, not to mention it features one of James Caan's best performances in my opinion. The DVD, sadly, doesn't offer much except a mediocre presentation of the film and no supplements. It's surely worth a rental if you've never seen it, otherwise, die hard fans of the film and James Caan are the only ones who will probably purchase this.