by Glenn Heath, Jr.
Hey! Fuck my protection!” Only a self-mythologizing degenerate gambler would scream such destructive language at a friend trying to help them avoid losing thousands of dollars in an underground blackjack den. But these are some of the gentler choice words James Caan’s spiraling NYC academic spews in the opening moments of The Gambler, a staggering masterpiece of 1970s American cinema equally concerned with personal delusion and physical deterioration. It’s a bit embarrassing that the rumored Martin Scorsese remake pushed me to finally watch Karel Reisz and James Toback’s harrowing tale of one man’s crippling lifestyle built around denial and deceit. But I’m glad I finally did. It’s a stunner you won’t soon forget. As the final credits rolled, The Gambler had me asking one question: has there ever been a film about addiction so ferociously alive with raw energy, so in touch with the intimacy of one man’s downfall? I’d say no, and there might not be one like it ever again.