James Caan in “The Gambler” doesn’t bother to look before he leaps. He knows there’s a slab of concrete waiting at the bottom. And he jumps anyways.
Director Karl Reisz’s film is all about engaging in risk with the certainty of hitting rock bottom.
Caan’s character, Harvard-educated English professor Axel Freed, has no illusions that his habit of staking it all will bring him nothing in the end. It’s in contrast to, say, the main pair of Robert Altman’s “California Split,” whose hopeful ruination provoked secondhand humiliation in just watching it unfold.
Axel, who comes from old money himself, never seems to be in the game for a fortune. He picks his numbers with an apparent wish that someday his…