Don't bet on it...3/10
Until a friend suggested going to see this movie, I hadn't even heard of it, and other than what I gathered from skimming the synopsis in the cinema-foyer listings-leaflet -it seemed to be some kind of comedy, and starred Bruce Willis as a gambler-, I wasn't sure what it was about.
And now, after sitting through all ninety-four incoherent, enervating minutes of it, I'm still not sure. One of my friends, who is usually uncritical and easily entertained, said he thought that "The Tree of Life" made more sense than this film.
Unlike Terrence Malick's "metaphysical masterpiece" however, there is no confusion here as to what the subject matter is (it's the life of professional gamblers), what is confusing is how that subject matter is presented, and how the narrative is (or isn't) constructed around it. For example, what was the intended tone of the movie, what was the film-maker trying to convey? Was it supposed to be amusing? entertaining? or moving? were we supposed to be excited, or to feel intellectually stimulated? Who knows. My main emotional reaction to the film was a kind of repulsion, because I felt like I was being exploited, like the film was insulting my intelligence and my basic humanity. Like I might expect to feel if I'd been suckered into spending an evening feeding coins to a slot machine.
The first 10 minutes were slightly amusing to be fair, but after that that it just descends into complete mind-numbing absurdity. You might think Vince Vaughn would offer some comic-relief but, for the brief appearances he makes, he's just going through the motions (though it's still the most convincing and consistent performance of the movie).
There was no tension, or intrigue, at all, for the first seventy minutes. I mean nothing seems to really matter to any of the characters, they behave so unrealistically, and incoherently. And when things finally seem to get real and there is some adversity for the characters to face, you just don't care because you can't feel sympathy for such pantomime puppets as these.
They could have gone more into the details, the mechanics, of the gambling operation, that might have been interesting, but they thought it would be better to pad the story out with completely vapid romantic-interest scenes.
Maybe, with the attraction of Willis, Zeta-Jones, Vaughn, (and Rebecca Hall's legs), it was thought that such things as humour, narrative direction, consistency and pacing, character development, etc., were unnecessary.
After seeing the movie, I learned that it was adapted from a book, that at least goes some way towards explaining why there were so many undeveloped, seemingly irrelevant details, obviously included for the sake of those that have read it. For example, Holly (Laura Pripon's character) keeps warning Beth that she is becoming "one of us", in the book there might be context for this but when you watch the film you're just like "what is this I don't even...."
But, even for those that have read the book, maybe more-so, this film will only bemuse and bewilder. While I'm informed the book was written in a 'picaresque' -and no doubt droll (not to mention self-deprecating) style-, on screen, without the benefit of a narrator, this translates into characters, like Beth, who starts off as some kind of cartoon-airhead-bimbo-stripper, sunbathing with baby-oil on her back, ending up as an extraordinarily articulate, mathematical genius, who goes on to become a writer... Rebecca Hall was a bad choice.
And another thing, I couldn't help feeling that this film was not-too-subtly trying to indoctrinate me. Maybe I'm just paranoid but, beyond just the obvious product placements (nice Mercedes being driven by Bruce Willis' Mr. Nice character), it's like they're glamorizing the lifestyle, and completely glossing over any moral issues, and Beth just follows the money from Las Vegas to New York to Curacao -are we supposed to admire that, to forget about community, and meaningful relationships, just go where the money is and keep working and consuming?-.
Whatever, I've wasted enough time on this drivel already, please heed my warning and don't waste yours.