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Axel Freed, a college professor and very successful at his job, is addicted to gambling, who wins big, but loses it all just as fast. He borrowed from his girlfriend, his wealthy mother, and last but not least a loan shark. It just gets worse for him because he can't stop. But when his girlfriend decides to leave him, his mom decides to disown him, and the mob wants to kill him, Axel decides to make a big score to win big and pay off everyone to stay alive and keep his dignity and come out ahead.Written by
The theme of addiction is a favourite area for film makers and "The Gambler" stands as the best and most intelligent film about the addiction of gambling. The fact that it is a little known or seen film is perhaps to do with its intellectual script which, with references to Dostoyevsky, may be too pretentious for some. However, rather than being a cleched film about a good man's decent into the hell of addiction this is a film about a selfish, egotistical man, from a good background, who happily wades deeper and deeper into his obsession.
The film's title pretty much sums up the story, with the character of Axel Freed, played by James Caan, beginning the film as a compulsive gambler but sinking further and further into his habit as the film goes on. He does this despite his undoubted intelligence - he is a college lecturer - and despite the pleading of his mother, rich grandfather and friends.
Freed is by no means a likeable character. Like most addicts all he cares about is his next fix and will happily ask his mother for tens of thousands of dollars to repay an outstanding debt. No one, including his girlfriend, played by Lauren Hutton, and his college students, remain untouched by his addiction, a decision which comes back to haunt him in the film's climax.
Many people have been left puzzled by the film's ending which is cryptic and unresolved. However this merely stands as a metaphor for addiction generally, that it can never be fully cured or ever totally go away. Axel is, however, obviously disgusted with himself and the effect his gambling has had on those around him and his late night journey into the all-black neighbourhood is his way of seeking retribution for his sins.
"The Gambler" provides James Caan with, alongside Michael Mann's "Thief", the best role of his career. The character of Axel Freed provides him with a range of emotions, especially in the way he treats those he cares about, as his gambling slowly takes precedence over everything else. Anyone who thinks James Caan's career began and ended with "The Godfather" should definitely see "The Gambler", as this proves he is one of the top actors of his generation and that he can play more than just the tough guy roles he is too often saddled with.
The film is brilliantly directed by Karel Reisz as not a single scene rings false despite a 111 minute running time. After directing the classic "Saturday Night and Sunday Morning" in Britain, Reisz relocated to America, but, unfortunately, "The Gambler" represents the only time he reached those heights again.
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