There are several features that make The Grand, directed by Zac Penn and released in 2007, stand out among movies set at the Poker table. For a start, The Grand is a comedy, not a gritty thriller. Secondly, it also has an impressive cast, including Woody Harrelson, Dennis Farina, Hank Azaria, Ray Romano, and legendary film director Werner Herzog.
The most unusual attribute of The Grand, however, is its improvised script. Penn and the actors worked on defining their characters, but all the dialogue in the film is improvised by the actors, as they play in a real poker tournament. This is The Grand, a Texas Hold’em Poker tournament held in Las Vegas. The action was filmed at the Golden Nugget Hotel and Casino on the Las Vegas strip.
Quirky Characters Hold Interest
The charm of The Grand lies in the larger-than-life characters it assembles. Harrelson plays an addict who has relapsed so often, he now lives in rehab permanently. He’s also a serial monogamist, with 75 failed marriages behind him, and he’s always ready for number 76. He needs to win the tournament for the $10-million prize, so that he can save the family casino he inherited and then ran disastrously.
Farina plays a crusty old Vegas gambler, and Herzog is a cheat who practises ritual animal sacrifice to bring him luck at the cards. The rest of the players include a pair of bickering twins, a momma’s boy who also happens to be a genius, and a maths teacher. The cast also includes several professional Poker players, including Phil Laak, Phil Gordon and Daniel Negreanu.
Lukewarm Reception on Release
The Grand got mixed reviews from critics on its release, and the US box office was disappointing. The film made back less than $115,000, which is a commercial failure, considering the budget was $3-million. Nevertheless, many Poker fans do enjoy the movie, with many rating it much higher than Penn’s big-budget superhero films.
The improvised performances are key to the film’s appeal. The storylines may seem a bit basic, but the dialogue that the actors came up with in character keeps it tripping along at a decent pace. The actors are all funny people in real life, and the freedom to play around while making up their own lines inspired some great moments and very funny scenes.
Playful Comedy Well Worth a Look
“Playful” is probably the best word to describe The Grand overall. The actors all love top 5 Aussie pokies games, and they seem to be having real fun improvising with each other. There are plenty of other Poker- and casino-themed movies for those who want thrills or intense dramas.
Running at just over 100 minutes, The Grand is for those looking for undemanding fun with a Poker theme. Getting to see some familiar stars let their hair down and make it up as they go along is an unexpected bonus. The film’s tagline, “A comedy about the fine art of losing”, may be very apt when referring to the Poker play, but no one in this cast is a loser in the acting stakes.