The Gambler is a compelling and effective film. James Caan is excellent and the featured players are superb. However, it is somewhat overlong in early exposition and has one climax too many.
James Toback’s script commingles candor and compassion, without hostility or superficial sociology or patronizing.
After getting off to a good start, film slows down in some redundant and/or sluggishly paced exposition, at least understandable considering the calibre of players such as Paul Sorvino, Jacqueline Brookes, Morris Carnovsky (Caan’s wealthy grandfather who declines to bail him out), Burt Young (a very cordial yet simultaneously merciless and brutal loan shark collection agent), whose roles provide full dimension and bitter irony to the story. The pace quickens towards the end.
Jerry Fielding’s score, based on Mahler’s Symphony No 1, is excellent, making the point that a contemporary urban drama can be underscored to great effect without tinny transistor radio source excerpts or mickey-mouse rock riffs.