The Card Player (2003)
By: Michael Helms on July 14, 2005  |  Comments  |  Bookmark and Share
Imagine Entertainment (Australia). Region 4, PAL. 4:3. English DD 5.1. 100 minutes
The Movie
Director:Dario Argento
Starring:Steffania Rocca, Liam Cunnigham, Silvio Muccino, Adalberto Maria Merli, Fiore Argento, Mia Bendetta, Antonio Cantafora
Screenplay: Dario Argento and Franco Ferrini
Music: Claudio Simonetti
Tagline: A Serial Killer With A Vice For Video Poker
Country: Italy
AKA: Il Cartaio; Death Site
Hastily put together when Dario Argento's follow-up to Sleepless fell through The Card Player was originally conceived as another vehicle for The Stendahl Syndrome's policewoman character Anna Manni. Her name is changed to Anna Mari for The Card Player and Italian actress Stefania Rocca plays the role but the end product is a police procedural with low key murders that foregrounds the details of the investigation of a serial killer who uses the internet to conduct his passion for gambling and death.

With Claudio Simonetti's techno soundtrack pounding, The Card Player jumps straight out of the blocks when Anna gets an e-mail from the kidnapper of a British tourist who had disappeared the day before. The Card Player as he wants to be known has a proposal for the police that Anna gets straight to her boss. Via an internet card game with a web cam tightly focused on the face of the kidnap victim, The Card Player lays down the ground rules that if the police play and lose he'll kill the victim. If they don't play he'll kill her. If the police win he'll set her free and for every hand he wins he'll amputate something. The game begins and with the Chief's insistence that they play, principally so they can trace the whereabouts of the kidnapper, the cards are dealt. Unable to track the kidnapper's location, time defeats the police and the screams of the victim are soon silenced when a large Stanley knife is produced. The murder largely occurs off screen. The next day a naked female corpse is pulled from the river.

Enter Liam Cunningham as an exiled Irish detective (John Brennan) who is pissed off that the Italian cops don't want to play cards with the killer. Anna sides with him. Down at the morgue an all-singing, all dancing coroner produces the battered and rubbery body only to have Cunnigham barge in and conduct his own autopsy. He finds a playing card in her vagina and a seed in her nose. Pulling her head back reveals a large slit in the neck of the corpse. Later that night Anna catches Liam drunk in the streets as another girl is snatched while walking down a lane. A new e-mail arrives announcing the next game but this time a younger police officer volunteers to play. Amputations occur as does the silly winning game tune which rings out in favour of the Card Player. Another body of water brings another body. This time, during the autopsy, the lifeless corpse releases a belly full of bile into Cunnigham's face care of a trapped pocket of air. He does find another seed though. A round table discussion with a profiler down at police headquarters labels the murderer as a risk-taking hedonist. Cunnigham repeatedly listens to a loud noise in the background of the downloaded murder soundtrack. Still, the computer experts can't trace the killer's whereabouts. Meanwhile, the decision is made to search video game parlours for suspects. As Anna and Liam are about to corral a money winning kid another game begins. They bribe the kid to come and test out his skills against the killer. While the kid wins a hand the victim manages to temporarily get free. Knocking over the camera during a struggle the killer shows off his leather gloves before pulling out the Stanley knife. The video is repeatedly viewed for clues. Anna and Liam get it on. Post coitus Anna spies a face in a reflection. She then finds some missing digits (not hers) and turns off all the lights. A chase around the house and into the garden ensues. Liam comes and takes her back to his place. Then, the Police Chief's daughter goes missing. The kid is called into play and goes on to win. The anti-hackers get a virus. The daughter is found when the kid, doing a bit of his own celebrating, is accosted by a sexy girl who's been paid to deliver a message. He soon has a rope slung around his neck and is dragged off by a motorboat after being ordered around by a mysterious electronic voice. Unexpectedly the manager of the video poker arcade rings to say that the kid wasn't the guy he meant. Liam finally recognises the loud sound in the background of one of the killings which in turn leads him to the lair of the killer and a sharp surprise demise.
Shot with minimal lighting for a gritty reality feel The Card Player looks nothing like gelled-up Argento classics such as Suspiria or Deep Red. Being shot in Rome and Venice you've never seen so many famous locations looking as creepy and uninviting as they do here. The shades of black and isolated moments of close-up photography are typical Argento though and do hold up well and surprise on more than a few occasions.
The Simonetti Euro-beat is ever present and all over the 5.1 surround soundtrack. It is utilised very effectively and that's despite the lack of guitar power chords. However, many viewers may find Rocca's last action producing some sense of relief and at the very least a wry smile.
Extra Features
One 8.00 minute selection of apparently random behind the scenes images set to a greatest hits of Argento soundtrack music including Suspiria. Also four Image trailers including Satan's LIttle Helper.
The Verdict
The Card Player is no gorefest but that's not to say Sergio Stivaletti's Apocalypse (isn't that a great name for a special effects company?) were idle during it's shooting. There's much probing of floppy dead bodies and the discovery of the booby trapped torture centre is a definite flesh piercing highlight. The finale though goes a long way to destroying all that had gone before it, bordering on the completely ridiculous as it does. While the The Card Player might remain a mild entry in the works of Argento it's still light years removed from your average hack piece and even if the internet/murder interface doesn't really come together it's definitely worth a viewing.
Movie Score
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