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Card Player (Special Edition), The
In a role that Dario Argento originally intended for his daughter and regular collaborator Asia Argento, actress Stefania Rocco plays a Rome-based police detective named Anna Mari who is contacted by a criminal responsible for kidnapping a British tourist. This criminal calls himself 'The Card Player' and tells Anna that if the police can beat him at a game of video poker, he'll let the victim go. And if not? He'll murder him in cold blood. The police chief (Adalberto Maria Merli) refuses to negotiate and soon the police see the victim slaughtered live over the internet.
A British detective named John Brennan (Liam Cunningham) is sent to Rome to help with the investigation and he and Anna work together hoping to uncover clues as to the killer's identity. Soon, a woman is kidnapped and the police are again challenged to a poker game. Knowing they won't likely beat him, they enlist the help of a gambling addict named Remo (Silvio Muccino) to help them. The police find themselves in a race against time hoping to find the killer before he strikes again, with their hopes lying in the hands of the rather unreliable Remo.
The first thing you'll probably notice with The Card Player is that Argento's trademark colors and camerawork have been markedly turned down this go around. The bright hues and flashy moves of films like Deep Red and Suspiria that have been the director's trademarks for years have been eschewed for a look that comes closer to Fincher's Se7en than any of Argento's earlier efforts. This is a very cold and clinical looking film shot in shades of grey, black, brown and green rather than the primary colors so often associated with his better regarded classic period. The fantastical elements of many of his earlier films are completely missing here and it looks like he's gone for a more realistic feeling with the film. In some ways, that's a disappointment but you can't blame the man for wanting to try something new even if the film isn't completely successful. The use of computer technology leaves itself wide open to being picked apart and the way in which the police handle themselves while dealing with what is essentially a computer based crime isn't all that believable. Once, or if, you get past that then The Card Player isn't a bad thriller, though it feels like it lacks the passion of some of the director's better movies.
The performances from Rocca and Cunningham are pretty good and quite believable. They have an awkward chemistry together that allows us to sympathize with them and hope they'll solve the crime. Muccino doesn't give a particularly strong turn as Remo, however. A few interesting kill scenes are noteworthy and the fake corpses created for the picture are sufficiently realistic and grisly. Figuring out the killer's identity isn't particularly difficult, however, and once you do that much of the suspense is sucked out of the picture. Ultimately, The Card Player is a lesser effort from the director but there's still enough about it that works. Even if you don't go back to it time and again, it is worth a watch.
Scorpion's transfer of The Card Player is offered up in an AVC encoded 1080p high definition presentation framed at 1.85.1 widescreen. The feature takes up 34.7GBs of space on the 50GB disc and it generally looks quite solid. Colors are reproduced nicely and black levels are strong. There isn't any noticeable damage of any kind to complain about and we get realistic looking skin tones. There aren't any problems with compression artifacts to note and the picture offers good detail in pretty much every shot as well as strong depth and texture. The film was released a year earlier as a Ronin Flix exclusive and while that disc isn't available to do a direct comparison to, as this isn't advertised as a new transfer it's likely that this is a port of that disc, particularly because the extra features appear to be identical as well.
Scorpion offers 24-bit DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio tracks in both English and Italian with optional subtitles provided in English only. Both tracks sound fine, properly balanced and free of any hiss or distortion with some pretty decent surround activity helping to make the more action-intensive moments stand out a bit.
Extras start off with an audio commentary by film historians Troy Howarth and Nathaniel Thompson. Howarth starts off by noting that he's going to put up a defense of the film as he's a fan, which makes sense given that he's half of the duo doing the commentary, and while the two praise the film a fair bit, they're also not quite afraid to criticize what doesn't work in the movie. They do note that the movie tries a lot of different things and how it is quite divisive among his fan base, they discuss his tendency to use his daughters in his movies as actresses, accusations of misogyny that have been thrown at Argento over the years and who they feel about that, the chemistry that exists between the two leads, the film's emphasis on police technology and procedures, some of the more interesting bit part players that show up in the movie, thoughts on the reveal of the killer and how it probably worked better for Italian audiences based on the casting choice, how and why a lot of Argento's movies tend to be a 'love it or hate it' kind of thing once you reach a certain point in his career, how Argento let some of his cast members ad lib a bit for the first time with this movie and more.
As far as the featurettes go, Watch Me When I Kill is an eighteen minute interview with Dario Argento himself that covers the research that he did when writing the script, why he shot in the locations that he did, why Asia Argento didn't appear in the film even though he had originally wanted her for the lead, how he enjoyed working with this cast members and some interesting influences that worked their way into this project. Screenwriter Franco Ferrini is up next in the nine minute Taking Risks in which he discusses a real life case that inspired the movie, research that he did before putting pen to paper and changes that were made to the original story idea along the way. A Chip And A Chair is a twelve minute interview with set designer Antonello Geleng who goes over the locations of the film and their importance, the different cinematographers that she's worked with over her collaborations with Argento and some of the work on this feature that she's most proud of. Lastly, we can an interview with actress Fiore Argento titled Game Over that runs just over nine minutes and covers her working relationship with her father Dario, her thoughts on the character that she plays in this film, getting along with Cunningham and some of the more challenging moments she had to deal with during the shoot.
As far as the packaging goes, this release comes with a collectible slipcover that replicates the same art used on the cover sleeve.
The Card Player is far from Argento's best efforts but so too is it far from his worst. It winds up being a decent, if predictable thriller that benefits from some good performances while getting bogged down with some genre clichés. Scorpion's Blu-ray release looks and sounds good and contains some solid extra features as well. Recommended for the director's fan base or those who already know they like the film, a solid rental for everyone else.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.