First Hit: Didn’t hit the mark in many ways, but there were some wonderful performances.
When playing certain characters, Mark Wahlberg definitely hits the mark and does it well. Here as Jim Bennett an Associate Professor in Literature, it doesn’t really work. It wasn't believable to me.
As an obsessed gambler, attempting to find a way to care about anyone including himself, he’s rather good. Mixing the two didn’t work for me, although I enjoyed is pointed stabs at the students in his class. His negative and sorrowful attitude didn’t play well with this students as well.
Whereas the classroom was full when the film starts, in the seven days over which the film takes place, the ending count of students was about 12. His relationship with his mother Roberta (Jessica Lange), his dying grandfather (George Kennedy), and everyone else is toxic, antagonistic and indifferent. What makes all this worse, is that he starts a relationship with Amy (Brie Larson) one of his students. I got that he was searching for a way to learn how to care about himself and others, but getting to this point was not well done.
However, I really liked that the director did not overuse mainstream gambling casinos, but focused more on private gambling dens.
Wahlberg was great as a non-caring gambler but the rest of his role didn’t seem to fit very well. Lange was interesting and well placed as the well-to-do mother running out of patience and willingness to support her self-destructive son. Larson was interesting and good as the brilliant student writer. Michael Kenneth Williams (as loan shark Neville Baraka) was very good and, at times, riveting. John Goodman (as Frank another loan shark) was absolutely commanding and it was him that elevated this film. William Monahan wrote an, at times, interesting, playful and poignant script. Rupert Wyatt directed this film and I’m not sure Wahlberg was the best choice to be the lead.
Overall: The interesting gambling scenes did not make up for the overall mediocre plot execution.