California Split

California Split ★★★★

I can only assume that 2015's Mississippi Grind was highly influenced Robert Altman's 1974's feature which is a similarly structured gambling adventure between two addicts struggling to make that next big win. California Split is a journey through the highs and lows of Bill's (George Segal) day to day as he sneaks away from the office to go to the racetracks and spend his night playing cards and getting hammered. We're not privy to what his life was like before his chance meeting with fast talking, smug Charlie (Elliot Gould) but we can only surmise that it's only getting worse as Charlie isn't the best of influences. The sad life of these characters is undoubtedly fascinating, Bill as this sweet pushover and Charlie with his bark being larger than his bite.

In classic Altman fashion, he's obsessed with the setting and those who inhabit it. The film opens at a crowded poker house filled with averages Joe's giving the game a chance. The noise and bustle of card shuffling and chit chat is amplified then overlaid with a how-to poker instructional explaining the rules and also the normalization of the gambling practice. It's so brilliantly orchestrated much like the opening sequence he'd later create for The Player. He not only sticks the opening but the ending is one of the most fantastic minimal character moments presented amongst a grand scenario. It speaks volumes to Segal's talent as a dramatic actor, a trait I think often forgotten to those of us who grew up with him on Just Shoot Me. Altman's entire filmography seems to be filled with under-appreciated and under seen masterpieces, this is definitely one worth seeking out.

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