Matt Gallagher (Canada, Canadian Spectrum)
Friday, April 29, 9:45 p.m.
Isabel Bader Theatre (93 Charles Street West)
Saturday, May 7, 9:30 p.m.
TIFF Bell Lightbox (350 King Street West)
Sunday, May 8, 6:30 p.m.
The Fox Theatre (2236 Queen Street East)
A look at the not-so-seedy underbelly of Toronto’s underground poker circuit, Grinders is not to be missed. Granted, much of this has to do with all the local colour: it’s inviting to imagine a secret shadow Toronto where card sharps ply their trade into the wee hours, filling out ad hoc gambling clubs set up in otherwise unassuming commercial space. As a filmmaker (and an underground poker player, or “grinder”), Gallagher understands this appeal. Many of his film’s more memorable, resonant moments come in the early morning dawn, when he or one of his subjects is driving home, bleary-eyed, after an all-night session.
Grinders is built around Gallagher’s own entry into the circuit. Facing financial problems, he decides his only option is to chase the “easy money,” by playing cards. While immersed in the scene he meets Andre, a 25-year-old dreaming of being cast on a poker-based reality show; Lawrence, a Toronto immigrant whose landlord is extorting him for the profits he makes running an illegal “social club”; and Danny, an aspiring pro player. Gallagher also travels to Vegas, following Danny as he plays in his first high-stakes tournament, and interviewing world poker champ and former Toronto boy Daniel Negreanu.
Though a bit amateurish at times (Gallagher’s connections between gambling, luck, and his own life sometimes seem a bit forced), Grinders is pretty excellent. It examines the sport of poker at face value, not casting any particular aspersions about its enthusiasts.