When someone decides to remake a film, no matter how old that film may be, there tends to be the assumption of disapproval from the original film's camp. In some cases, all parties get along and manage to keep their contempt to a minimum – if not nonexistent – degree. This is what sort of happened between James Toback, the writer of the 1974 version of The Gambler, and the powers that be who were working on the 2014 remake that was released last December. The only reason we say sort of is because not even a year's gone by since the Rupert Wyatt speed bump was released into theaters, and Toback is letting everyone know what he really feels about the Mark Wahlberg vehicle.
In the recent "Hollywood Power" issue of Vanity Fair, the writer who created the world of The Gambler laid out the sordid path of just how the project got started without his knowledge, only to change hands and actors a bit before finally landing on the team of Rupert Wyatt directing and Wahlberg starring in the updated lead. All throughout his interview, James Toback manages to get some real good shots in against the film's overall end result.
The most damaging criticism of all was leveled directly at the remake's writer, William Monahan (The Departed). According to Toback, Monahan's script made the following massive errors when compared to his original picture:
[It] exhibited what can charitably be described as an immaculate lack of understanding of compulsive gambling in all of its psychological dynamics, as well as a disconcertingly slothful ignorance of the rules of even the simplest games... More egregiously, there is not a hint of pleasure in winning, not even for a moment."
Anyone who has compared clips of James Caan's Axel Freed, the protagonist of the original version of The Gambler, and Mark Wahlberg's 2014 Jim Bennett variant can see just what Toback is talking about. Axel is a man who knows the taste of winning, and manages to keep his cool even when he's $44,000 in the hole and in trouble up to his eyes. Jim, on the other hand, is extremely detached, and almost seems a bit mercenary about the money he needs to raise in order to avoid danger. Jim clearly isn't having as much of a fun time as Axel ever did, and considering Axel's world is the one that James Toback considers a semi-autobiographical look at his own life, you can see why he'd be so mad about anyone screwing with that.
Karma seemed to catch up with The Gambler though, as the 2014 film was received in an extremely poor fashion. Even our own Eric Eisenberg summed up the film as fun in parts, but "not nearly enough to make it an enjoyable movie-watching experience." Much like playing the ponies or taking a spin at the roulette tables, remaking a film like The Gambler is a risk that can either pay off big time or leave you creatively flat broke. It's a lucky break for James Toback, and any original writer whose work has been cannibalized for a grab at modernized cash, that the house won in this particular case.
The Gambler is now available on Blu Ray and DVD, while the "Hollywood Power" issue of Vanity Fair is on newsstands right now.