Wahlberg stars as Jim Bennett, a lecturer reeling from the death of his beloved grandfather (George Kennedy). His all-or-nothing personality gets him in debt for more than a quarter of a million dollars to the no-nonsense Mr. Lee (Alvin Ing), who runs an illegal gambling den. Jim attempts to play his way out of the hole by borrowing money from vicious criminal Neville Baraka (Michael Kenneth Williams), but his strategy backfires and leaves him owing the latter as well. His wealthy mother (Jessica Lange) initially refuses to give him any more money, which prompts Jim to make contact with Frank (John Goodman), a loan shark who offers to front him the cash he needs, but promises that failure to repay will lead to the death of his "bloodline." At the same time, Jim teaches a class of college kids about Shakespeare and Camus. His best student, Amy (Brie Larson), openly flirts with him, but he's also preoccupied with trying to get through to Lamar (Anthony Kelley), a star basketball player whom the university higher-ups want him to pass so he can continue to play..