The Gambler (15) ***

The Gambler
The Gambler
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Silence is golden for everyone except American screenwriter William Monahan.

With an Oscar for The Departed, his English language reworking of the Hong Kong thriller Infernal Affairs, the Massachusetts-born scribe attempts a similar feat of alchemy with this modern update to the 1974 film of the same name directed by Karel Reisz.

Alas, Monahan’s penchant for excessively wordy set pieces proves an insurmountable distraction.

He arms the cast with polished one-liners and barbed retorts that would draw blood if his woe-begotten characters weren’t so emotionally cold and distant.

After the first hour of endless verbosity, I hoped – in vain – that Monahan would rein in the dialogue and let actions speak a hundred words instead.

No such luck.

But then good fortune is in perilously short supply in Rupert Wyatt’s film, which unfolds through the bloodshot eyes of a college professor, whose daredevil antics at the blackjack table have left him heavily in debt to men who trade in violence.

The misery begins with Jim Bennett (Mark Wahlberg) striding into an underground den run by one of his creditors, Mister Lee (Alvin Ing).

The night ends badly, as usual, leaving Jim with seven days to find 240,000 US dollars.

Without enough money to stake at a table, Jim borrows 50,000 US dollars from Neville Baraka (Michael Kenneth Williams) and also turns to his mother (Jessica Lange).

A further loan from a hulking gangster called Frank (John Goodman) gives Jim the collateral he needs to gamble himself back into the black.

Meanwhile, Jim spars with his students and sparks an affair with his most talented pupil, Amy (Brie Larson).

As time runs out for Jim to settle his spiralling debts, Neville issues a stark warning: ‘I’m going to kill that pretty little blonde girl, mail you the pictures, and kill you next.’

Wahlberg is elevated by the material but those long speeches, including a centrepiece rant in the lecture theatre, become wearisome.