THE GAMBLER, directed by Karel Reisz, stars James Caan in a difficult role as Alex Freed, a compulsive gambler with many inner demons, who is completely out of control. He can't resist a bad bet because that's where the "juice" is. While his irrational rationalizations--largely influenced by Dostoyevsky, whose novel, THE GAMBLER, he teaches to his students at City College--might seem like a lot of existential hot air, they are well dramatized, making his descent downward believable even as his actions become increasingly frenetic.
Reisz provides a sound realism to the THE GAMBLER's settings both in Las Vegas and on the streets of New York. Made at the same time as Robert Altman's CALIFORNIA SPLIT, which attempted to visually create the internal world of the compulsive gambler, here Reisz presents a gritty realism to the world of bookies, loan sharks, and their violent enforcers. He relies on Caan, generally a more physical actor, to portray the cultured intellectual who loves Mahler, but is obsessed with danger. Caan starts slowly, and with the help of Lauren Hutton in a good performance as Billie, his predictable blond girlfriend, he illuminates the world of gambling in this tense, realistic film.