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Overall Rating
4

Awesome: 12.5%
Worth A Look75%
Just Average: 12.5%
Pretty Crappy: 0%
Sucks: 0%

1 review, 2 user ratings


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California Split
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by Jay Seaver

"Altman & Gould are a safe bet."
4 stars

I imagine that gambling is like any other addiction, whether it be narcotics, alcohol, or anything else - it initially gives you a rush of excitement, making the rest of one's time seem boring, and in many cases it's not the addicting act itself that causes the addict's downfall - it's how it impinges upon his time and other resources. And yet, as it becomes a destructive activity, the pleasure drains out of it, so that an outsider wonders why people continue.

California Split starts with the excitement - Charlie Walters (Elliott Gould) and Bill Denny (George Segal) meet when they share a table at a California poker parlor, then bump into each other later in a bar. It seems to be the first time Bill has found a kindred spirit who enjoys gambling as much as he does, and they spend the next few weeks gambling wherever they can - card games, the racetrack, making random bets in bars. As much fun as they're initially having, things aren't necessarily going well: They spend a night in jail, getting bailed out by the call girls Charlie is staying with; Bill is separated from his wife, starting to miss work, and racking up debt; and one morning Charlie just disappears. Bill thinks he sees a way to get back even, though, with a high-stakes poker game in Reno.

Director Robert Altman and writer Joseph Walsh don't overload California Split with too much story or too many characters, and they're certainly not looking to make gambling glamorous in any way. The poker club where the film opens is crowded and despite its tidiness feels like a gambling sweatshop, discouraging any sort of socialization between the players and packing the tables in tight. The other gamblers don't have colorful nicknames like in Rounders and aren't admired celebrities; they're just other guys at the table or at the track. At best they're other addicts, but often enough they're just common thugs (and Bill and Charlie aren't necessarily exempted from that).

Charlie's the one more likely to pick a fight, since he's got fewer consequences to worry about. Gould mostly makes Charlie upbeat and playful, a fun guy to be around and maybe possessed of some wisdom about how to live when so much of one's life is devoted to gambling. Gould also knows how to handle the dark side of that kind of carefree personality; when Charlie takes sometimes dangerous risks because he feels he has nothing to lose, there's a sort of apathy underneath his bravado. He's not afraid because whatever situation he's in isn't as important as the next game.

It's an open question what would have happened to Bill if he never met Charlie; Segal often plays him as more excited by having a friend than by the prospect of winning or losing money. The time he spends with Charlie is a respite from the banality of the rest of his life. As excited as Segal makes Bill early on, he also manages a similar magnitude of grimness in the second half. He's not enjoying himself, but he can't seem to stop. It's a great acting job of how something that once brought joy is now bringing, if not quite misery, very hollow pleasure indeed.

Ann Prentiss and Gwen Welles do good work as the call girls Charlie is currently staying with, especially Welles as Susan. Both of them are nice enough, but there's a sadness to Susan, a well-preserved innocence despite her acceptance of what she does on a daily basis. There's something almost tragic about how she looks at Bill and sees something that could be real, but also knows that it'll likely come to nothing.

That realistic appraisal of the situation is what makes "California Split" such a good film about gambling - by the end, Bill can see what it's doing to his life, even when things are going well, and knows what he'll have to sacrifice to feel good about himself again.

link directly to this review at http://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=7687&reviewer=371
originally posted: 02/03/07 21:23:25
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User Comments

10/09/07 mr.mike Gould and Segal are aces , but gambers lives are not thrilling 3 stars
12/19/03 danny Eiffelberger Why's no one reviewed this. It's Brilliant!! 5 stars
IF YOU'VE SEEN THIS FILM, RATE IT!
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USA
  07-Aug-1974 (R)
  DVD: 02-Nov-2004

UK
  N/A

Australia
  N/A


Directed by
  Robert Altman

Written by
  Joseph Walsh

Cast
  George Segal
  Elliott Gould
  Ann Prentiss
  Gwen Welles
  Edward Walsh
  Joseph Walsh



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