The Grand

The Grand


Reviewed by: Tony Sullivan

Fun ensues when a disparate group of losers, desperados and average Joes descend on a Las Vegas Winner-takes-All Poker tournament in the hope of bagging a $10,000,000 top prize.

If you've followed the career of Christopher Guest over the years you will be familiar with this comedy format. First up he co-directed and co-starred in faux documentary This Is Spinal Tap back in 1984, later he turned director on similar projects, Waiting for Guffman (1996), Best in Show (2000), A Mighty Wind (2003) and For Your Consideration (2006). A collaboration between Directors Zak Penn and Werner Herzog in 2004 yielded Incident At Lochness, a documentary concerning the making of a film called Enigma of Lochness, directed by Herzog. Of course, neither film is strictly legitimate.

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For his second feature, Penn has invaded Christopher Guest territory with his tale of feuding poker players. This time round there is no pretence that what we are watching is real, but the film maintains the rules of documentary. On hand in the cast are previous collaborator, Werner Herzog and Spinal Tap's Michael McKean to enhance the pedigree.

Among the competitors, Woody Harrelson plays One-Eyed Jack Faro, a fellow who is trying to save his grandfather's casino from being taken over by an unscrupulous developer, but can he stay sober long enough to win anything?

Larry and Lainie Schwartzman are issue-ridden siblings, played by David Cross and Cheryl Hines, with an overbearing father (Gabe Kaplan) and Lainie's self-absorbed husband (Ray Romano) to contend with. Andy Andrews (Richard Kind), is a online poker devotee who has never played a live game before, Harold Melvin (Chris Parnell) is a mathematical savant who knows all the odds. The German (Werner Herzog), a sadist with an entourage of heavies. Then there's 'Deuce' Fairbanks (Dennis Farina) an old school Vegas mobster. To this roster add a plethora of other characters to round out the competition.

The film documents the poker game in the manner of Pop Idol, starting with a huge field of players which is gradually whittled away down to the prime cast with one or two surprises here and there. Interspersed with the game are the various back stories of our characters and professional TV coverage of the event, which, of course, isn't very professional at all.

During the improvisational sessions, Penn let his cast play poker for real and the film's outcome mimics that of the real game, in other words, you'd have to be a betting man to predict the final outcome.

Penn has come up trumps here because he has assembled a completely winning cast, who, despite their eccentricities are oddly endearing and, I'd have to say, beats out most of the Christopher Guest back catalogue, because this is a very funny film, even for those who care not a jot for the card game. Herzog is a particular delight as the quietly insane German, but nobody really puts a foot wrong, even down to the most insignificant cast members playing assorted casino staff.

Reviewed on: 20 May 2007
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Poker movie comes up trumps.

Director: Zak Penn

Writer: Zak Penn, Matt Bierman

Starring: Woody Harrelson, Cheryl Hines, David Cross, Ray Romano, Jason Alexander, Dennis Farina, Chris Parnell, Richard Kind, Werner Herzog

Year: 2007

Runtime: 95 minutes

Country: USA


Tribeca 2007

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