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The Gambler
IMDB Rating: 7.3/10 from 2,508 votes
Release: 4 December 1975 (Netherlands) /

The Gambler

Genre: Crime, Drama
Director: Karel Reisz,
Stars: , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
Synopsis: Axel Freed is a literature professor. He has the gambling vice. When he has lost all his money, he borrows from his girlfriend, then his mother and finally some bad guys that chase him. Despite all of this he cannot stop gambling.

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Critic Reviews


From the first scene to the last I was on the edge of my seat. Bet after bet my stomach turned. Caan's Axel Freed is driven to hit the big one, but it never seems to come or be enough. He loves the thrill of losing and feels safe when he is at the bottom.

Watching Freed bet tens of thousands of dollars on whims is excruciating. This film is one huge car wreck that you can't turn away from. With each scene the damage gets worse and worse.

"If all my bets were safe they just wouldn't have any juice," he tells his bookie.

Axel is never happy--even when he is doing the thing he enjoys most. You can see the underlying dissatisfaction he has with his job, his life, and the universe in general. The only constant in his existence is the bet. Win or lose.

Freed is very adept at evading the lowlifes he owes his shirt to. It is a joyride for him to constantly "dodge the bullet". That is why each bet becomes riskier and riskier. He wants to see what will happen to him when all of his luck runs out.

At one point in the film Axel reads a passage from an essay on George Washington to his class. He and his students conclude that Washington was afraid of failure and that he tried to remove the element of risk from everything he did. It is the very antithesis of Axel's life as a gambler. He creates situations that are totally immersed in risk believing that it is the only way to ensure true success. All or nothing. He is willing to compromise not only himself, but anyone around him who cares about him. By displaying his dark, self-destructive side he gambles with their feelings and challenges them to either love him or leave him.

It was a special treat to see two actors (Cann and Sorvino) who are in two of the best crime movies ever made (The Godfather and Goodfellas) together in the same film.

Also Antonio Vargas is appropriately slimy as the Pimp (sort of an R-rated Huggy Bear).

There are some pivotal moments in the film like when Axel is told that he must get one of his basketball-playing students to fix a game; or when he confronts his millionaire grandfather after learning that he refused to cover his debt.

I won't give away the ending, but the payoff is not what you would expect in American cinema.

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