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Wellspring presents
The Gambler (1997)

"He's an author. They prefer places with atmosphere."
- Anna (Jodhi May)

Review By: Rich Rosell   
Published: April 18, 2002

Stars: Michael Gambon, Jodhi May
Other Stars: Polly Walker, Dominic West, Luise Rainer, William Houston
Director: Karoly Makk

MPAA Rating: Not Rated for brief sexuality and language
Run Time: 01h:33m:05s
Release Date: March 26, 2002
UPC: 720917532028
Genre: drama

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
B- B-B-B D+

DVD Review

The fictionalized account of an author struggling to write a novel might not really be the stuff of high drama, even if the author is Russian-born Fyodor Dostoyevsky (Crime And Punishment, The Brothers Karmazov, The Gambler). This rich-looking 1997 period piece, directed by Hungarian Karoly Makk, highlights a segment of Dostoyevsky's life, set in 1866 St. Petersburg, during the time when the author had reached a point in his life when his health and personal demons, along with a questionable business deal or two, threatened to permanently end his writing career.

Anna (Jodhi May), a meek, pretty twenty-year-old stenographer, accepts a job to transcribe the work-in-progress of the great Dostoyevsky (Michael Gambon). The job is only scheduled for one month, and the eccentric writer demands that Anna must live with him, because he "does not keep office hours" when he writes. Initially, this strange arrangement does not sit well with Anna, but she slowly adapts to the situation, as she learns that Dostoyevsky only has 28 days to complete the book (which would become the title novel) or he will lose all rights to future publications, due to a contract he had signed with his publisher.

As Dostoyevsky dictates to Anna, Makk shifts to focus on the characters of The Gambler, with an elaborate story-within-a-story that attempts to bring the main plot of the novel to life. These segments detract from the real heart of the film, that of Dostoyevsky and Anna, and while the gambling addiction of the assorted fictional characters might have in reality paralleled the author's life, that point is not clearly made. Luise Rainer, who was the first person to win back-to-back Academy Awards® for acting (The Great Ziegfeld (1936) and The Good Earth (1937)) appears briefly here as a regal matriarch, and her performance is the only thing that salvages Makk's forays into this subplot of Dostoyevsky's novel.

Gambon (Gosford Park, Mary Reilly) gives a theater-worthy spin as Dostoyevsky, which translates into some of his line readings being tinged with a bit too much emphasis, and teetering on the brink of overacting, though his quieter moments with Anna play nicely. On a stage, his performance could probably earn him a Tony® nomination, but here it sometimes comes across as too theatrical. He does, however, have one of those wonderful deeply-creased, expressive faces that allow him to play the haggard, unhealthy writer with an aura of realism.

In contrast, Jodhi May's Anna, as she slowly becomes immersed in the man and his novel, is really the film's anchor. May has a wide-eyed innocence, and she gives a genuinely natural performance that I found more compelling that that of Gambon.

Makk's film is really a love story between Dostoyevsky and Anna, who would eventually marry in real life. Makk bypasses the chance to present an in-depth look at one of literatures most respected names, in favor of a slightly rushed dramatization that spends too much time immersed in the characters of The Gambler, and not enough on the author and his life.

Rating for Style: B-
Rating for Substance: B-


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.66:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Rationo

Image Transfer Review: Though not indicated on the packaging, this film appears to be presented in a 1.66:1 widescreen transfer. The overall image is a little soft on detail, but the colorfield displays a lot of deep gold hues (credit cinematographer Jules van den Steenhoven). The colors are presented well and though there are some fine grain issues, there no glaring compression problems. The print has a few flaws, most noticeable during the opening credit sequence, which is sprinkled with white specks.

Image Transfer Grade: B-


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Englishyes
Dolby Digital

Audio Transfer Review: The 5.1 Dolby Digital audio track presents an adequate, straight-forward soundfield, with a smattering of rear channel action to fill out the soundstage a bit. This is mostly a talkie, and the rear channel cues consist primarily of music accents. Dialogue is anchored across the fronts, and is mixed cleanly. Imaging is not overabundant. A rather flat 2-channel stereo mix is also provided.

Audio Transfer Grade: B


Disc Extras

Animated menu with music
Scene Access with 16 cues and remote access
Cast and Crew Filmographies
1 Original Trailer(s)
Packaging: Amaray
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extras Review: A trailer, brief filmographies and 16 chapters are included. Perhaps a brief bio of Dostoyevsky might have filled in some of the historical facts for non-literary types.

Extras Grade: D+


Final Comments

Makk's costume drama, as beautifully shot as it is by cinematographer Jules van den Steenhoven, does not give itself enough time (97 minutes) to properly tell the story of Dostoyevsky's life, or at least this particular part of it. An uneven, but intriguing performance by Michael Gambon, and a sweet, lovestruck turn by moon-eyed Jodhi May give Makk's film some degree of substance.

The romantic elements of the story, which could have been engaging on their own, are wedged in between too much unnecessary baggage.


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