California Split (1974)
Directed By: Robert Altman
Some films about gambling want to hammer in the point that it all goes wrong eventually. Others attempt to make the lifestyle look flashy and cool. California Split does neither. Instead, the film opts for an honest look at what this lifestyle is with no real point of view. Yet by rejecting, we are forced to make up our own mind about the kind of life the characters lead.
The film stars George Segal and Elliott Gould as two gamblers merely floating by in life when they decide to team up for a lifestyle of high-stakes gambling. Like other Altman, films there’s a heavy sense of melancholy here that is buried under the chaotic conversations and sharp humor of the characters. Each of the characters is seeking something out of their gambling, but they don’t really know what it is they are looking for, which leads them to not knowing when enough is enough.
The film is expertly directed and shot with some of the best poker sequences put to film. There is less of an attempt at showing the audience what happens in poker and more of an attempt to show what happens to the emotions of the players. The two lead performances are incredible and help keep the viewer engaged with their sense of humor and desperation.
Like a lot of Altman’s work, this film seems to be at risk of being forgotten in time. Yet California Split is a film that has held up amazingly with age and is a great time if you are looking to be transported into another life.