Directed by: Zak Penn
Starring: Woody Harrelson, Cheryl Hines, David Cross
When the popularity of poker exploded after Chris Moneymaker’s 2003 World Series of Poker victory, filmmakers tried to find a way to capitalize on both the popularity of the game and the popularity of the cult classic Rounders.
What resulted is numerous box office flops that clearly did not understand either the game or the players involved. That changed when director Zak Pen and producer Jeff Bowler released the poker mockumentary in 2008 known as the The Grand.
The plot of The Grand was seemingly simplistic at first glance. A bunch of poker players come together to try and take down a “Winner Takes All” poker event known simply as “The Grand” and the $10 Million prize. As the viewer starts to watch, it become all too evident that this film is not taking itself too serious and that the “documentary” is indeed a “mockumentary” on the game of poker.
Much of the first half of the film is spent setting up the characters in the film. Woody Harrelson’s character of Jack Faro is your classic screwup that just happens to have one true talent, that being poker. Cheryl Hines character of Lainie Schwartzman is “The Woman” of the poker world and determined to prove she belongs. David Cross plays the “Bad Boy” in Larry Schwartzman but you soon find out there are deeper issues behind his persona.
Each character’s back story and motivation for playing the event is revealed in short order and in a way where you feel you get a solid gist of each person without any further explanation. This all eventually leads to the actual poker event where we see each player in their element.
Once The Grand is underway, we begin to see that the directors and actors actually do a fantastic job of capturing the spirit of tournament poker and what it has become since the beginning of the Moneymaker Era. The use of several top pros add to the realism of the game and also to the comic effect.
As part of the mockumentary process, the actors are basically just given an outline and they ad-lib a majority of their material. In the case of this film, that also included the actual playing of the poker tournament. Once the final table is set, the players are then actually allowed to play out the event to a winner. The result of this forced directors to film multiple ending to the film. You will have to watch to find out who comes out on top.
The Grand succeeds where others failed because it does not take itself too seriously and instead focuses on the things that have made tournament poker great, the people at the tables. It is a film that both poker fans and poker novices will enjoy and is worth a rental at your local RedBox or download on Netflix.