Login

The Gambler Review

Image for The Gambler

Dostoevsky (Gambon) has risked ruin by promising his publisher that he can meet a tight deadline in return for the payment of his debts. He hires a secretary (May) and begins dictating the tale of a young man (Dominic West) who turns to the tables to help his beloved (Walker) escape a lustful creditor.

★★★★★

A key player in the development of Hungarian cinema in the 1950s and 60s, Karoly Makk finally forged an international reputation with Szerelem (Love), which won the Special Jury Prize at Cannes in 1971, but his films have rarely been accorded the privilege of a UK release.

Consequently, anybody coming fresh to his work with this version of Dostoevsky's autobiographical novel will be unaware that he is capable of much better. That's not to say that The Gambler is a poor film - indeed, it's a much more successful adaptation than The Great Sinner, which starred Gregory Peck - but Makk has overloaded his dice and gone broke on far too many occasions. There are only so many times, for example, you can get away with dissolve cutting or slow-motion shots of a ball bouncing around a roulette wheel.

Makk uses the unusual device of the "novel within a film" to tell his story of how the great Russian writer came to pen his intense study of gambling fever. Seriously on his uppers, Dostoevsky (Gambon) has risked ruin by promising his publisher that he can meet a tight deadline in return for the payment of his debts. He hires a secretary (May) and begins dictating the tale of a young man (Dominic West) who turns to the tables to help his beloved (Walker) escape a lustful creditor.

Everyone's a gambler here - it's just a question of who has more at stake. Occasionally the dialogue sounds a little anachronistic and some of the fictional scenes seem a touch stagey. But the relationship between Gambon and May is fascinating and admirably played. However, the most remarkable performance comes from Luise Rainer, who effortlessly steals her first film in 53 years as a gleeful gambling grandmother.

Though it contains some anachronistic dialogue and some stagey end-scenes, the film is rescued by the fascinating relationship between Gambon and May and Rainer's superb performance.

More from Empire