The Gambler

  • 1997
  • 1 HR 37 MIN
  • NR
  • Biography, Drama

Beneath the grubby performance by Michel Gambon and some stylistic flourishes, Karoly Makk's dramatization of an episode from the tortured life of Russian novelist Fyodor Dostoyevsky is pretty standard stuff: a handsome but somewhat clunky biopic wrapped around an adaptation of a classic novel. It's 1866, in old St. Petersburg, and Dostoyevsky is in a desperate...read more

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Reviewed by Ken Fox
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Beneath the grubby performance by Michel Gambon and some stylistic flourishes, Karoly Makk's dramatization of an episode from the tortured life of Russian novelist Fyodor Dostoyevsky is pretty standard stuff: a handsome but somewhat clunky biopic wrapped around an adaptation of a classic novel. It's 1866, in old St. Petersburg, and Dostoyevsky is in a desperate situation. Having sold the rights to his every written word (past, present and future)to an unscrupulous publisher in order to clear his debts, Dostoyevsky must now deliver the complete manuscript

of a new -- and unwritten -- novel in 27 days. To facilitate the process, Dostoyevsky decides to hire a stenographer to whom he can dictate the novel, and he's sent one of the best: Anna Snitkina, a young woman with an ailing father and in desperate need of funds. Anna is at first disgusted by the

squalor of the Dostoyevsky household, the writer's violent epileptic seizures and his slimy stepson (William Houston), but she's soon absorbed in the tale of Alexei, a young Russian tutor whose soul is broken on the roulette wheel. And as the pair race to meet the impending deadline, Anna becomes

enthralled with the storyteller as well. The novel in question was eventually published as The Gambler in 1866. Makk's strategy is to fold an opulent dramatization of the book into the story of Fyodor and Anna, trusting that any obvious parallels between the fiction and the life of its

author (himself a compulsive gambler), would be sufficiently interesting to justify this old-fashioned exercise in biographical fallacy. Makk even goes so far as to cast Polly Walker as both the dubious heroine of the novel and as Dostoyevsky's real-life mistress, Polina. The result is a lot of

cross-cutting between two underdeveloped storylines that spin headlong to a unsatisfying climax. The film, however, is graced with a wonderful appearance by a spry Luise Ranier, two-time Oscar-winning star of THE GREAT ZIEGFELD (1936) and THE GOOD EARTH (1937) and a true screen legend.

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  • Released: 1997
  • Rating: NR
  • Review: Beneath the grubby performance by Michel Gambon and some stylistic flourishes, Karoly Makk's dramatization of an episode from the tortured life of Russian novelist Fyodor Dostoyevsky is pretty standard stuff: a handsome but somewhat clunky biopic wrapped a… (more)

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