Alex Freed is a literature professor. He has the gambling vice. When he has lost all his money, he borrows from his girlfriend, then his mother and finally some bad guys that chase him. Despite of all this he cannot stop gambling
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I know it's been said by many many times but they made movies in the US they won't make now...gritty little character pieces with no sugar that I eat up. Better on 2nd viewing, this has Toback all over it though he only wrote it. Probably Cann's best performance...he really nails the charm the character needs and not just the impulse and desperation because this guy couldn't last as long as he does without it.
Reisz's bravura opening sequence establishes the narrow confines to which his gambler's concerns have been reduced. From there we're shown a world Axel only barely inhabits, the world of external obligations and others' intentions. Grimly obsessed with imposing his will upon reality -- including his own willful destruction -- Axel both depends upon and reacts against the safe-harbor/prison of the maternal relation.
I saw the Rupert Wyatt version (2014) with Mark Wahlberg first - and was quite impressed. However, even though, I was expecting "the original" to be better. But it wasn't. In all terms they are absolutely on the same (high) level. Great acting of James Caan ("fuck my protection"). The way he conveys the addiction & decline of a person into ruin is amazing. Unforgettable scenes: "20$ for a dime"; cinema radio, bath.