The Gambler is one of the edgier and more interesting, if forgotten, films of the mid-1970s, the kind of studio film that rarely gets made anymore. Based on a screenplay by James Toback (Two Girls and a Guy) and directed ... more »by Karel Reisz, the film stars James Caan as a brilliant college literature professor with the same weakness as one of Dostoevsky's characters: He can't resist a wager. Indeed, he's in so deep that even his seemingly good-hearted bookie (Paul Sorvino) is trying to kill him. So he lams out of New York and heads for Las Vegas--where he wins back everything he's lost so he can pay off his massive debts. But is he smart enough to take his winnings and walk away? Caan captures the aggressive compulsiveness of the gambling addict, the strange split between a seemingly intelligent man and an uncontrollably stupid impulse. The film includes early film performances by James Woods and Lauren Hutton. --Marshall Fine« less
"A neglected and underrated masterpiece, presenting one of the most convincing and thorough psychological studies in all cinema. James Caan, in what may well be his best-ever performance, portrays a compulsive gambler with an unusually acute awareness of his own motivations. The 'back story', from which we learn how his family background helps feed his obsession, is subtly and convincingly portrayed. The whole is a tragedy, laced with grim humor.The score uses Mahler's music to great effect, the direction is tight and closely focused throughout and the final scene can only be described as perfection."
An excellent look at a compulsive gambler
Mezz | Las Vegas | 12/14/2002
(5 out of 5 stars)
"The so called film experts that pan this movie just dont understand the life of a gambler. This movie is an excellent study of a compulsive gambler and his road to self destruction. James Caan is outstanding as the tragic Axel Freed and the supporting cast is even better. The emotional roller coaster ride of a compulsive degenerate gambler is shown from the ultimate high of winning to the rock bottom low of losing and is portrayed superbly by Caan with a stellar performance.
This movie was extremely well written,directed and acted and is flawless in its presentation from beginning to the end. The climatic ending where Axel takes the ultimate gamble risking his life is brilliant. There has never been a more realistic look at a lost soul gambler and the effect it has on friends and family. This is a rare gem of a movie that was way ahead of its time. A must see for anyone that appreciates a true to life gritty story, great performances and not some Hollywood big budget nonsense that is routinely served up today."
On the edge
LGwriter | Astoria, N.Y. United States | 06/12/2002
(4 out of 5 stars)
"One of the most uncompromising American dramas of the 70s, this takes a penetrating look at the addictive mindset of the gambler as no film did before that and none since as well. The writing by James Toback is superb and the direction by Karel Reisz is just as good. James Caan, in one of his best roles, plays a professor of literature--an ivory tower guy who drives himself right to the edge. The story implies that the possible reason for this is his patrician upbringing; his mother's a successful and respected physician and his uncle, an extremely successful businessman. And Axel Freed--Caan's character--needs much more than all the myriad assumptions that a blue-blooded background provides.Even his girlfriend, Mickey (broadly played by Lauren Hutton), is upscale. Caan deftly and convincingly portrays someone who takes advantage of his class and its privileges and at the same time obsessively needs the "juice" of danger. The ending is a strong finish to a great movie; Axel tests the waters of what could very likely bring the ultimate danger. The real question is, Does he want that or not?It's interesting to see both James Woods and M. Emmett Walsh in small and early roles here, as well as some 70s stalwarts: Paul Sorvino, Vic Tayback, and Steven Keats. The mix of the highbrow and the street is a great one. All actors do a terrific job.Recommended"
A Winner In Every Sense...
Hillary | Brooklyn, New York | 06/28/2002
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Veteran legendary actor James Caan was at his peak 10 years into his on-screen career in this James Toback classic. Director Karel Reisz gets one of Caan's most convincing performances to date, as well as terrific support from the rest of this well recognized ensemble cast.
Caan plays Axel Freed, an English Lit professor, who comes from a well-to-do family. Although Axel has success in his career and a beautiful, but detached girlfriend played by70s covergirl Lauren Hutton, he's looking for something far LESS out of life. He is a hopeless gambling junkie. Caan is so terrific and tragic as a man who can't control himself in the face of any kind of risky wager. He'll take the worst odds, never quit while he's ahead, and certainly NEVER knows when to fold 'em. Axel seems to be happiest as the loser ironically, because he never keeps his winnings, just wagering again until the profit is lost.
Paul Sorvino, another veteran talent is in a very early role here as "Hips", Axel's bookie. Hips has done just about everything he can do to convince Axel of his self-destructive habit, but to no avail. In a terrific scene, Axel gets a good look at his future, as he is sent to collect a debt from a deadbeat with an enforcer played by real life buddy, Burt Young, more famous for being "Rocky" brother-in-law. Axel watches as the deadbeat has his furnishings demolished by an abusive Young, and gets a solid working over culminating in some broken bones. Does this spell the future for Axel? You have to see for yourself.
James Caan has never looked so good, or played such a gut-wrenching role. The scene where he's sitting in his bathtub listening to a game he's got a crucial bet on, causes you to actually feel his desperation. We are not so sure he actually wants to win though. He seems to crave the humiliation of being the loser more than the victory of being a winner. He even humiliates himself in front of his students by trying to fix a college basketball game, to pay yet another debt he's accrued.
Besides Sorvino, Hutton, and Young, there are also other classic screen veterans to catch in small roles. When Caan pleads with his doctor mom to give him her savings, they deal with the terrific James Woods, as a banker who asks for one too many forms of ID. Vic Tayback is seen as well.
If you are a James Caan fan, as I am, and you want to see an example of some of his finest dramatic work, I highly recommend "The Gambler" as well as his subsequent 1981 Michael Mann classic "Thief" (see my review) as two of my favorites in his vast filmography. For comedy, Caan is classic as ANOTHER gambler in the hilarious "Honeymoon In Vegas"(see my review for more).
"The Gambler" is without doubt, one of the finest dramatizations of the degradation, the hopelessness, the fleeting thrill, and the moral bankruptcy that awaits any individual with this addiction. We as viewers will become hooked on this amazing story, but, unlike Axel Freed, we will gain from this experience, with nothing to lose."
Mr. Jw Weddell | Northumberland, UK | 08/18/2005
(4 out of 5 stars)
"An excellent movie, given an average treatment on DVD- that is to say, good picture quality, murky sound, and zero extras. Its still worth a purchase though, for the movie itself."