Friday, February 8, 2013

A David Fincher production: HOUSE OF CARDS

The whole innovation with putting the whole 13 episode season at once is almost an afterthought for me (I don't not see how amazing it is, just that I almost take it for granted, it's put together more like a 13 hour movie, ala Berlin Alexanderplatz or something). What astounds me so, one of the great first seasons of any show, is how much thought and effort were put into making this such a complex, brutal, extremely-darkly comedic and sometimes downright horrifying experience. 

Maybe it all comes down to the Frank Underwood character, Kevin Spacey's best role/performance since American Beauty (which says as much about his work here as it does his ups and downs since then). While it is an ensemble piece, and so much about it - Zoe Barnes, the gutsy, did-she-do-that reporter, Peter, the congressman who is a good soul but weak and stupid (maybe sympathetic to me though in the same way Anthony Weiner was - he could be fantastic, but his fuck-ups are tremendous), and Clair, Frank's wife, played with icy awesomeness by Robin Wright as a woman who *can* be nice and kind, or she can just completely be as ruthless as the worst boss you'd ever meet. 

But with Frank... oh man. It's like if you took the goodness of some of the West Wing characters (like Leo McGary, the John Spencer character), and just made it the flip of that. Suddenly we're in what is a David Fincher production - and his two first episodes show him sharp as ever with how to create a look that is his but darkly inviting - and there's the cold efficiency of a Social Network, or the tenacity (and always-enjoyable breaking-the-4th from our 'Narrator'), and yet its so dark you sometimes just have to cringe, like realizing Daniel Plainview is the tried and true "HERO" of There Will be Blood.

If it's like anything I could compare it to it's like the Godfather in the political realm - what will someone do to get to the top? Competitors have to be knocked out, of course, and you have to be a step ahead or even more ruthless than what comes around the corner. And having a second in command - a Tom Hagen in Doug Stamper to Underwood's Corleone - always helps, never hurts... or does it?

I can't rave enough about the show. And while I don't know what the future will bring - a second season is confirmed but a third, well, Netflix will just have to decide that for themselves with their mysterious algorithms (just saying that makes me think of the Social Network again, but nevermind). It's smart entertainment for, yeah, smart people. It thrills, but it doesn't stop to fly by character bits. You want to maybe hate a character like Frank Underwood, his evil is so present. And yet he's such a strong character - a fiery politician who measures nearly every word (well, 'nearly', unless debated on CNN, a very funny set piece in one of the episodes that is maybe all too realistic in today's politics when one has to be on all the time) - that you can't help but root for him. At times. The three dimensions present in almost all the major players here should give other, lesser, TV writers a guilty conscience.

In short, I feel as if I have experience a full course meal, with desert from the Cheesecake Factory, in terms of showing what Washington is like, or at least a slightly heightened version of things (though, and I may be cynical, I doubt it's far off despite being an adaptation of a novel and British mini-series).  

And lastly, if Fincher's buddy Steven Soderbergh is retiring to focus on TV... I'm guessing this is the sort of thing that keeps him aching to tackle something similar.  GO FOR IT! 

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