Posted January 30, 2013

Documentary Review: Life On The Line

A new documentary probes the secretive world of professional sports betting

Entertainment, Movies

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It seems fitting that a documentary about career sports bettors like Teddy Covers would gamble on an unorthodox distribution plan. That’s just what Life On The Line, which was released Sunday at LasVegasAdvisor.com for $4.97/download, has done ahead of the busiest week of the year for sports books. Yet just because you can’t find it in theaters doesn’t make this behind-the-scenes look at the mysterious, multi-billion dollar industry of professional sports gambling any less absorbing.

Covers, a/k/a Teddy Sevransky regards himself (seemingly accurately) as the best football handicapper in the world. Through a series of interviews with him and several other professional bettors, filmmaker Isaac Feder invites viewers into a world that typically grants very limited access to the average sports fan and gambler. While he does manage to accomplish the “insider’s look” into this fascinating world, Feder’s film plays out more like a character study of the colorful band of miscreants who inhabit it. And that, perhaps, is Feder’s greatest accomplishment: gaining the trust of a group of people that, in playing the odds, typically trust very few.

Set against the backdrop of Super Bowl XLV between the Packers and the Steelers, Line exposes the folly of the average bettor as well as the psyche and neuroses of professional gamblers like Sevransky. We meet two-time Supercontest champ Steve Fezzik (whose pseudonym is derived from Andre the Giant’s character in The Princess Bride), the Las Vegas Hilton’s legendary oddsmaker Jay Kornegay and the overconfident (and clearly very insecure) hedge fund manager/ex-Marine/professional gambler John Netto.

While it’s an interesting exercise, ultimately, Life on the Line falls prey to the same trap that most docs do — the repetitive nature of testimonial soundbites which hammer you over the head with the point the filmmaker is trying to make. In this case, it’s unclear what that is, and perhaps the most salient point — one Covers makes at the end of the film — is offered up as sort of a throwaway. That is, betting is an unequivocal part of our culture, and with our country over $10 trillion in debt, for how long can we wait to tax and regulate the multi-billion dollar business nationwide? It’s not unlike marijuana, another hot-button issue of the moment, in that respect. When done in moderation, sports gambling and weed aren’t societal ills. Tax the hell out of them and let it ride.

Jimmy Chairman is a New York bureau producer for E! News and a contributor for Extra Mustard.

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