Monday, April 23, 2012

The Card Player (2004)

The CardPlayer, the universally hated giallo from maestro Dario Argento is probably his most personal movie since Tenebrae in 1982. It's personal because it once again takes another route in his visual style, away from the overloaded set-pieces and complicated camera-movements. Deep inside I think Argento is tired of what the fans claim to love him for. Remember when he tried to connect to the fans again with Nonhosonno? It ended with a shallow pastiche of his old movies, a simple best of. The Card Player is actually more inspired than Nonhosonno and closer to really good storytelling.

Stefania Rocca is Anna Mari, a police inspector in Rome who one day is contacted by a man who calls himself The Card Player. He has kidnapped a British female tourist and want to play a game of internet poker over her life. Anna Mari, in cooperation with her colleagues and superiors, agrees - but it all ends with the victim being killed in front of their eyes. A British cop, John Brennan (Liam Cunningham) joins the hunt and tries to stop the Card Player to kidnap and kill more girls...

Yeah, the story is pretty basic. Some critics has compared it to CSI and other US crime shows and the format feels a bit television, I can agree on that last thing - but the rumour also says it was originally made for television. The rest is typical standard giallo, but shown from the side of the police. There's not much crime scene investigation and the story concentrates a quite much at the love affair between Anna and John. A love affair that feels both honest and real, and one of the best ever told in a movie by Dario Argento.

What feels clumsy is the internet poker-thingy. At least for us who lives a lot on the web and understands how games like this work. For a normal joe, turning on the telly a dark evening, it means nothing and seems realistic enough. But a good fan always ignores the plot holes in Argento's movies, because all of them have something that actually could destroy the whole story if analyzing it too much. So I choose to just accept that this is a movie and nothing else.

But why is this such a good movie? Well, it has not much gore and blood (but more than Bird with the Crystal Plumage for example!) and the story is just OK, but here's why it's so effective: when I first got it on DVD I showed it to a friend. He was just visiting me and I was preparing to watch the movie and he stayed because he had nothing else to do. This guy is a normal guy. He likes movies, but is no collector. He can't tell an Italian thriller from an American, so here he is: pure. Untainted. We watches the movie and when the credits start to roll in the end he turns to me and say: "Fred, this was a really thrilling and scary movie!".

He don't know who Argento is and he doesn't care. It was a damn good movie. And it's for people like him Argento makes movies. Because of Argento would be making movies for those few fans that think he never should make another movie after Inferno he wouldn't make any movies at all. He's a commercial director, he makes movies for the big masses. Entertainment. Bloody entertainment.

The Card Player has several excellent set-pieces. When the killer attacks Anna in her apartment it's one of the best sequences Argento directed. It's actually, for real, exciting and scary. The actors are uneven, but it's Stefania Rocca and Liam Cunningham who carries the whole movie and makes great performances. Like with Tenebrae, almost a sibling movie when it comes to the style and design, The Card Player will grow and sooner or later be a favourite of many new Argento-fans.


BorisLugosiSr said...

A very surprising, but well justified appraisal of a somewhat neglegted film. Personally i haven't found the time to watch the movie because of my preconcieved opinion of the movie ending up being less than entertaining. I didn't draw much enjoyment from the Phantom of the Opera, and felt Stendhalm Syndrome was pure plain shit... With a killer, main lead, and even the storyline that i couldn't have cared less. On the other hand, i did enjoy Nonhosonno especially the first time i saw it. Part of the films success was of course down to the Goblin score. Argento being a commercial director isn't a bad thing, but there are other workman like directors that cranck out (thriller) genre product for the Average Joes of the world. People expecting more from the onetime genre visionary isn't wrong either. I guess i'll have to watch the Cardplayer sooner or later, but in the meantime i'm building unhealthy prejudices towards Dracula 3D!

Ninja Dixon said...

Stendahl Syndrome is one of his finest masterpieces!

The problem is that fans think that he should do the same movies he's always done, and I'm pretty sure Argento don't want to do that. And I respect that more than being nostalgic.

Richard of DM said...

Great review, sir! You make a fair case for this film but I have to jump on the bandwagon and say that I really can't stand The Card Player. And basically, it's just me nitpicking. (Keep in mind, I like the almost totally universally hated films Mother of Tears and Giallo.)There are two things I HATE about this movie: 1. the whole Video Poker premise and 2. the killer's motivation or lack thereof.

Every police procedure scene ever filmed will become dated almost immediately. That's just the nature of the genre. But the whole "This is the Mecca of Video Poker" business is so dated and so lame that it hurts my eyes to watch.


What was the killer's motivation? He was in love with Anna? He wanted to impress her? Huh? Unless I'm mistaken, we get literally no back story on him at all. Hey, I'm the killer! Hey I'm dead! The end. With just one or two sentences in the script or even a dang flashback, I would be satisfied as to what the heck drove this guy to kill. If I missed something, please let me know. I've only watched this one 3 or 4 times.


As for the quality of the production, I think this is a great Argento film. I like the actors, the editing, the camerawork, the score, and the setpieces immensely. But honestly, I cannot resign myself to just saying "I like this" because of those two aspects I mentioned.

Ninja Dixon said...

Richard, I think he has a reason... a reason only a serial killer could use: SPOILERS!

The killer is a compulsive gambler, and his relationship with women is bad. Soon he wants his revenge on all the sluts out there and uses his gambling obsession to raise the stakes, to make it more extreme. Why not combine these two obsessions? :)

I mean, there's NO reason in Tenebrae than that he wants to kill. Nothing else. Here there's a reason, and it's not better or worse than any other giallo-reason :)

Anonymous said...

Ninja: Cool....never heard of this film.....what do you think about his more mainstream US productions like Masters of Horror: Pelts..?

Ninja Dixon said...

I like everything by Argento! He's a genius :)

Richard of DM said...

@Ninja D - You have made one of my reasons for disliking this film (the killer's motive) seem very pointless. Nice work! Now about that video poker nonsense...

Ninja Dixon said...

Lol, well... I can agree with that poker nonsense... but that's life ;) I've always been a protector of Argento's work after Opera. I think much of it is quite interesting.

Maybe I'm a bit harsh when it comes to Nonhosonno, and I will give it a spin soon again. I liked it the first time because of the gore, but second watch and after that was less impressive.

Osvaldo Neto said...

After the great start, SLEEPLESS goes downhill very quickly. It's a waste of time. THE CARD PLAYER was better even if i don't liked it but your review is making me consider a second watch... also because i watched a dubbed version.

Guillaume said...

In fact it's my favorite Argento film since THE STENDHAL SYNDROME.
Great lead performance from Stefania Rocca and a very nice minimalist work from the cinematographer Benoit Debie.
Catchy soundtrack too!