California Split

California Split ★★★★

If I were to say I have done a fair share of gambling during my nearly 30 years on this planet, it would be a gross understatement. Between poker, sports, and ridiculous prop wagers on total nonsense, I have put a lot of money on the line in my past. I won some and lost a lot, but the thrill of it all was the real high. It's what kept me coming back to it over and over, the spirit of knowing with one decision I could either double my bankroll or head home with nothing in my pocket.

I still play poker from time to time because I am actually good at the game and appreciate the fact that the outcome is entirely in my hands, but otherwise I have kicked the addiction to gambling. Despite this, I still find the topic to be fascinating, both because of my past and also the tiny part of me that will always want to jump back in again, an urge that I will never fully separate myself from.

California Split by Robert Altman is an easy film to embrace as a man with an intense history with playing the odds because it is wrapped up and soaked in realism. The style of the filmmaking can be deemed simplistic, but it is this aspect that makes the experience feel so authentic. There is nothing flashy about the sets or the people that fill them, but that is what makes a fictional work feel like a glimpse of reality. The film tells the story of a man named Bill Denny (George Segal) and his new friend/gambling partner Charlie Waters (Elliot Gould) as they travel around finding creative and comical ways to place a wager, from the ability to name the seven dwarfs to who will win a fight they witness based only on the clothes those participating are wearing. At times their story is painful to watch, as I recognize the desperation of a man who is falling apart thanks to his debts, but often times the film has a wonderful and entertaining sense of humor.

California Split is a work driven by an air tight script and wonderful performances to carry it home. Altman has a beautiful handle on the material, as I have seen so many films involving poker in which the mood at the table is absurdly serious and cold in an unnatural manner. Every aspect of the world created here makes me feel like I am back in a casino again, breathing the air saturated with extra oxygen and cigarette smoke, and all I want to do is drink it in.

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