Reviewed by Gareth Jones
Directed by Dario Argento
Starring Liam Cunningham, Stefania Rocca, Silvio Muccino
Distributed by Arrow Video
A serial killer is abducting young women and forcing the police to engage in rounds of online video poker. For each round lost, the victim loses a digit or limb, eventually ending with a slit throat. With the first victim being a British tourist, hard-edged (and hard drinking) Irish cop John Brennan (Liam Cunningham) is drafted in to assist Italian detective Anna Mari (Stefania Rocca) in tracking down and bringing the perpetrator to justice.
So far, so generic, but in the hands of Italian giallo maestro Dario Argento, the banality of the plot should be elevated to a higher level. Right? Wrong. The Card Player looks and feels like a TV thriller of the week or an abandoned pilot for a really shitty police procedural show. Argento throws in some of his trademark inventive camerawork early on, but its effect is negligible, for example an opening tracking shot of feet much like the ballerina sequence in the infinitely superior Sleepless. Here, however, it lacks payoff or reason. Argento eventually abandons this inventiveness as the film progresses, giving the entire affair a very phoned-in vibe; it feels as though he simply didn’t care – being “Argento-ish” for the sake of it – or, at worst, it actually feels like a different (inferior) director attempting to mimic his style.
The Card Player does serve up a couple of tense scenes, including a well done home invasion, and decent performances from the main cast (Liam Cunningham comes out on top); but the climax fails to generate any thrills at all – indeed, the final shot is such an unnecessarily clumsy addition you’d be forgiven for laughing out loud. It’s also severely lacking in gore or violence with mainly after-the-fact bodies delivering the only goods. We do get an impalement and fishing hook to the throat, but the latter is entirely bloodless.
Claudio Simonetti’s work on the score is both excellent and irritating at times. Most of the score sounds great; however, the main theme (which I assume is supposed to be futuristic or techno-like) sounds like a war between computer-generated crickets and ducks before it segues into something much better. When it suddenly blasts into action during one of the murderous card games, it robs the entire scene of tension.
A few unexpected deaths and flashes of grotesquery remind you that you are indeed watching an Argento film, but for the most part The Card Player offers nothing new, nor of any real interest whatsoever.
Arrow’s DVD presentation of the film is of a good standard in both the picture and sound departments with no major problems in either regard. A couple of darker shots aren’t as solid as they could be, but you’ll barely notice. In terms of special features, first we have a nine-minute promo reel for the film that features mainly on-set footage of Dario alongside cast and crew in action, accompanied by theme music from a number of Argento’s movies. Next comes a pretty disappointing making-of featurette. This runs only about five minutes, again showing some on-set footage and a few minutes of discussion with Dario and Stefania Rocca. Not a huge amount of insight offered here. Finally we have the trailer for The Card Player and the best extra on the disc – a trailer reel for most of Argento’s films. A number of these trailers are obscure extended European ones that I certainly had not seen and really had a blast watching.
Overall it’s a not-so-great package for a not-so-great film (the best thing about the disc is the trailer reel!), but let’s face it – even five hours of bonus material couldn’t save The Card Player from being one of Argento’s worst.
- The Card Player promo
- Making of The Card Player
- Feature trailer
- Dario Argento trailer reel
1 1/2 out of 5
2 out of 5
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