The Card Player [Il Cartaio] (2004)

Turn on the TV these days and someone always seems to be getting murdered. From Dexter to Criminal Minds, the C.S.I’s Miami, New York and Las Vegas all the way across the pond to our very own Midsomer Murders, the viewing public seems hooked on homicide.

The origin of this craze for serial crime dramas involving serial killers can be directly linked to the Italian Giallo genre, which popularised explicit exploitative crime horror way back in the 70’s. The increase in blood, gore and more in the modern cop shows shows the heavy influence of Giallo and the desensitisation of modern audiences, who would find sensationalist films like Twitch of the Death Nerve and Deep Red tame in comparison to today’s TV.

The Card Player is a modern Giallo, directed and written by Dario Argento – an old hand at the genre. It not only harks back to the lurid psychological thrillers of his past, but is also obviously influenced by much more modern tales of cops and killers.

Set in Rome, Detective Anna Mari (Stefania Rocca) is thrown into an investigation involving a risk obsessed murderer, who forces the police to play internet poker for the lives of the young women he holds hostage. Each time the cops lose a hand, the killer cuts off a finger or more, torturing and killing the girls as the police watch on helplessly via a webcam.

After a British tourist is murdered, hard-nut Interpol agent John Brennan (Liam Cunningham) joins forces with Mari. But when the psycho kidnaps the Police Chief’s daughter (played by Dario Argento’s real life daughter Fiore) the countdown starts for them to stop the poker playing killer before he deals out her death.

Originally conceived as a sequel to Argento’s The Stendhal Syndrome, with Asia Argento set to reprise her role as Det. Anna Manni and Mathieu Kassovitz to join on as her partner against crime, the movie mutated into The Card Player when both where unavailable. Thus changing the cast and characters but keeping the plot pretty much the same.

Irish actor Liam Cunningham, who has been seen in a whole host of films from Harry Brown to Blood: The Last Vampire is a gruff but charismatic counterpoint to Italian actress Stefania Rocca’s troubled action heroine.

The rest of the cast does okay but suffers from some dodgy overdubbing, giving the film a cheesier quality than it deserves, which is then magnified by some budget computer poker effects.

Packed with the full deck of clichés and conventions found in every cop thriller, from the in-depth investigation, to the heroine’s troubled past, to the madman with a manipulative and imaginative M.O, Dario Argento does little to reinvent a genre he had helped create and craft. That is the movies main weakness.

Although an international affair with a reasonably good concept, stylistically and narativly The Card Player seems far too similar to an extended episode of TV crime show. Less tense than it should be it has a couple of shocks, a garnishing of gore and some nicely nasty moments but leaves you wanting more.

Extra credit and mention must go to Arrow Films who pack this dvd full of extras, inside and out including an alternate cover, poster and booklet. If only other companies would follow their lead!

Anyone unaware of Argento and his work would be wise to start with his earlier, edgier and inventive films. However, if you’re a fan of police based thrillers with a bit of extra horror on the side, or you fancy something different from the usual cop shows clogging up the TV, then The Card Player could be for you.

Either way it’s definitely worth a gamble.

Movie Rating: ★★☆☆☆ 

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Alex Humphrey

Alex studied film at the University of Kent and went on to work for Universal Pictures in their Post Room gaining an inside look at the movie industry from the very bottom. Constantly writing reviews in everything from local magazines to Hip Hop sites Alex honed his critical skills even spending a brief period as a restaurant critic. Read more

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