House of Cards

House of Cards
6
Adapted from the BBC series of the same name for American audiences by Beau Willimon, with the help of Hollywood heavyweight director David Fincher, House of Cards is a sleazy, smug game of political cat and mouse. Kevin Spacey devours the scenery as the manipulative Senator Frank Underwood, Majority Whip and all around callous son of a bitch. The titular "house of cards" refers to Underwood's precarious, painstakingly conceived and executed plan to become the leader of the free world. One shaky move and all of his careful plotting will come tumbling down. It's a good thing, then, that Underwood has steady hands when it comes to unpleasant tasks, as Fincher drives home in the series opener by having our protagonist coolly put a dying dog out of its misery. Only two people are privy to the ultimate objectives of Underwood's string-pulling: his wife, Claire, (Robin Wright), and assistant, Doug Stamper (Michael Kelly). Unlike most soapy dramas, Frank and Claire have a very honest and open relationship. Both engage in infidelity, but with the full knowledge and consent of the other. Jealousy isn't in absentia; it's just a controllable emotion that carries little weight against the zealous pursuit of the bottom line their loving bond is built upon. And so the relationship that develops between Frank and plucky young reporter Zoe Barnes (Kate Mara) isn't a matter of romance; it's a matter of control. Frank uses Zoe to leak information that suits his purposes and Zoe uses the crumbs Frank tosses her to advance her career, the sex just an extension of their mutual exploitation. A key pawn in the Senator's ruthless scheme is scrappy train wreck, and Representative of House, Peter Russo (Corey Stoll). His boozing, snorting and whoring gives Frank exactly the leverage he needs to add a reliable puppet to his collection. At its core, House of Cards is about the moral bargaining people in pursuit of power engage in every day. You don't need to worry about reading between the lines though — there's no room for subtext in a show that constantly gives its lead soliloquies that break the fourth-wall to spell-out every last character motivation. It's amusing to watch Senator Underwood's deft plotting unfold and as the series progresses, some of the soapiness that makes early episodes hard to take seriously rinses off, but there's never a sense that anything is going to go any way other than according to plan. Fans of glossy, showy dramas like Boardwalk Empire will likely find much to enjoy about this passive, decidedly unsubtle series. Those who prefer a little ambiguity in their storytelling will be less smitten. Strangely, for such a large production, the DVD package comes with no special features. (Sony)