Saturday, February 16, 2013

California Split

Directed by Robert Altman and written by Joseph Walsh, California Split is the story of two gamblers who become friends over their love of gambling as they go to casinos in order to have a major score. The film is an exploration into the world of gambling and the effects it has on the people who are entranced by that world. Starring Elliott Gould and George Segal. California Split is an extraordinary film from Robert Altman.

In the world of gambling, one has to figure out how to score and win big so that person can have money and spend. In this film, it’s about these two different men who love gambling as they team up together for one big score after they had been mugged by a gambler who felt ripped off by the two men. Along the way, they do things that will help them win money and have a good time but the lifestyle starts to take its toll on one of the men in Bill Denny (George Segal) as he finds himself in debt. When he decides to go Reno to gamble with the more experienced Charlie Walters (Elliott Gould), something happens to Bill at Reno where Charlie has to sit back and watch while the aftermath would have some profound effect for these two men.

Joseph Walsh’s screenplay explore the world of gambling where it is about playing cards the right way or trying to shoot at a craps table or picking the right horse to win at the racetrack. Still, it is about these two different men who have an interest in gambling. In Charlie Walters, here’s a guy who is very experienced in that world and is very obsessed about what to do and knowing what to pick where he will even throw someone off their game so he can win. In Bill Denny, here’s a man with a job as a magazine writer who is fascinated by gambling and has won a few games here and there but has no experience in winning big.

The two team up together in order to make big money together as Walters is a more compulsive gambler who knows the lifestyle that includes drinks and women while it is still new to Bill. For Bill, he goes deep into this world where he wins but then loses as he finds himself in trouble. There, he goes into a major character development in which he realizes what he has to do to be a full-time gambler that requires a lot of sacrifices. Seeing how Charlie is able to deal with it makes Bill uneasy where he will take a risk to go to Reno for one big score where it wouldn’t see how far Bill will go to win but will also test his friendship with Charlie.

Robert Altman’s direction is quite straightforward for the most part though he does manage to pull in some interesting framing devices for the film. Yet, he keeps the camera in tact to uncover this world of casinos and racetracks to explore a world that is quite chaotic in some aspects but also very organized. For the scenes outside of those environments such as Charlie’s home or the place where Bill works. The direction is very different as it’s tighter and more focused to see how these two men live outside of the gambling world where Bill maybe uneasy about it but has accepted it. For Charlie, he feels more out of place as he longs to make money through gambling. While a lot of the film takes place in California, it’s climax is in the more colder environment of Reno, Nevada where things are a bit different except in the casinos.

Still, there is tension in the direction that occurs where Bill is eager to make his score where he could succeed and fail. The aftermath is the most interesting moment because of where these two men have come to as well as the result of what it takes to gamble. There’s an ambiguity to that world where it can be great when someone wins but also very terrifying when someone loses. Overall, Altman creates a truly mesmerizing yet entertaining film about the world of gambling.

Cinematographer Paul Lohmann does excellent work with the photography from some of the low-key lighting in some of the bars and casinos to the more vibrant look of the Californian exterior settings. Editors Lou Lombardo and O. Nicholas Brown do terrific work with the editing to capture the energy of the casinos and racetracks as well as more methodical moments in the non-gambling scenes. Art director Leon Ericksen and set decorator Sam J. Jones do nice work with the look of Charlie‘s home and the office that Bill works as well as a few touches for the casinos they attend.

Sound editor Kay Rose does wonderful work with the sound to capture the craziness in the race tracks and the casinos to showcase the world of gambling. The music soundtrack consists of an array of music that plays to the world of casino life courtesy of Phyllis Shotwell who provides some funny renditions of standards.

The casting by Scott Bushnell is brilliant for the ensemble that is created as it features appearances from Jeff Goldblum as one of Bill’s editors, Bert Remsen as a drag queen Bill and Charlie meets, Edward Walsh as a gambler who mugs Bill and Charlie early in the film, and screenwriter Joseph Walsh as Bill’s bookie. In a couple of wonderful performances, there’s Gwen Welles and Ann Prentiss as a couple of lady friends of Charlie who hang out with him and Bill as they also encounter their world of gambling.

Finally, there’s the duo of Elliott Gould and George Segal in fantastic performances in their respective roles of Charlie Walters and Bill Denny. Gould brings a lot of humor as the fast-talking Charlie who always hustle in order to make his living as he’s also a man that knows what to do. Segal also brings humor to his role but also a sense of dramatic weight to his character who finds himself in trouble over his gambling losses. The two together make a great duo in the way they interact with each other as they’re a major highlight of the film.

California Split is a marvelous film from Robert Altman that features incredible performances from Elliott Gould and George Segal. Thanks to its intriguing approach to explore the world of gambling, it’s a film that is very funny but also very compelling that explores the world of gamblers and what they have to do to win. For fans of Altman, this film is definitely one of his key works in the 1970s as well as one of his finest films of his career. In the end, California Split is a superb film from Robert Altman.

Robert Altman Films: (The Delinquents) - (The James Dean Story) - Countdown (1968 film) - (That Cold Day in the Park) - M.A.S.H. - Brewster McCloud - McCabe & Mrs. Miller - (Images) - The Long Goodbye - Thieves Like Us - Nashville - Buffalo Bill and the Indians, or Sitting Bull’s History Lesson - 3 Women - (A Wedding) - (Quintet) - (A Perfect Couple (HealtH) - Popeye - (Come Back to the Five and Dime, Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean) - (Streamers) - (Secret Honor) - (O.C. and Stiggs) - Fool for Love - (Beyond Therapy) - (Aria-Les Boreades) - (Tanner ‘88) - (Vincent & Theo) - The Player - Short Cuts - Pret-a-Porter - (Kansas City) - (The Gingerbread Man) - Cookie's Fortune - Dr. T & the Women - Gosford Park - The Company - (Tanner on Tanner) - A Prairie Home Companion

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