A parody and satire of the U.S. political scene of the time, HealtH is set at a health food convention at a Florida luxury hotel, where a powerful political organization is deciding on a new president.
A rich but lonely woman, Frances Austen, one day invites a homeless young man from a nearby park to her apartment and offers to let him live there. However, she has no intention of ever letting him leave again.
A down on his luck gambler links up with free spirit Elliot Gould at first to have some fun on, but then gets into debt when Gould takes an unscheduled trip to Tijuana. As a final act of desperation, he pawns most of his possessions and goes to Reno for the poker game of a lifetime. A film set mainly in casinos and races, as the two win and lose (but mainly win), get robbed, and get blind drunk.Written by
Altman makes the camera disappear in a movie about gambling that still feels fresh 35 years later
It's surprising how little known California Split is but even in a career filled with great movies such as Robert Altman's it deserves more recognition. It is Altman the auteur in top form, his quirks and distinctive traits that separate him from all directors of his time emblazoned over every minute of this delightful mixture of comedy and drama.
It's the handling of the subject matter that makes the difference. Sure this is not the first movie to be made about the compulsiveness of gambling and people trying to find meaning and pleasure in empty addictions but it is such a fresh and enjoyable movie one has to sit down and take notice. What makes it work so well? I'll say the success rests on a combination of three things: the infectious chemistry between the two leads Elliot Gould (in a hilarious role) and George Seagal; the fully realized world Altman creates for his characters; and that overall the movie is capable of both belly-laughs and profound sadness but it is always subtle, never says anything more than it has to, leaving just enough for the viewer to participate. Even the bitter aftertaste of the ending is never expanded more than two or three lines and a look on Seagal and Gould's faces and it's then counterpointed with a spin of the wheel and a sweet jazz song as the end credits begin to roll.
This combination of those three things ultimately achieves the most important and difficult thing for any director to master: to make the camera disappear. This is not the first time Altman succeeds in doing so but California Split is still a very good indication of the craftsman at the top of his talent.
The gambling world here is not the glitzy and glossy Las Vegas of Ocean's 11 or Four of a Kind - not it is for gambling movies what The Long Goodbye was for neo-noir. A look inside a crummy, cheap world without prospects and the rent's running. It makes perfect sense then that the last act takes place in Reno and not Vegas and that the bleachy look of Paul Lohmann's cinematography (no Vilmos Zsigmond this time) reflects that there's no glamour to be had here.
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