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Review Il cartaio a.k.a. The Card Player (2004): An Argento light but entertaining nonetheless!

genre: giallo, mystery, thriller

The Card Player is Argento where the style and ingenious camera tricks are stripped. Hence Argento light. Does that automatically make it a bad film? No, not at all. It's a decent thriller for the most part although somewhat flawed.

I have noticed a pattern upon watching Argento's films again for review purposes. That in his later films he seems to be less concerned about motives and explanations of why his killers are doing what they do. And therefore probably also doesn't feel the need to give you that many clues or hints that could lead you to finding out who these killers are. No matter how fantastic. And in a giallo film those elements are part of what makes them fun. Strip them away and you have a more convention crime thriller than something that also could pass up as a straight up horror film. This probably is the reason why a lot of Argento fans were disappointed. However I don't mind change that much as long as it is effective. In this case it is. The Card Player is a very serious affair with more than enough red herrings to chew on. The premise or gimmick I should say was pretty creative. A killer challenges the police to play video poker. They have to win three times and he will let his victim go unharmed. But each time they lose he will amputate a body part. If they lose overall the victim will be killed. These video poker scenes are quite intense since you do want the victims to come out alive and unharmed. On top of that you have the police bickering amongst themselves as they are a bit clueless how to deal with this threat. 

Enter Anna Mari (Stefania Rocca) and John Brennan played by Liam Cunningham (Game of Thrones). Both police officers who do have an idea and also are very determined to get the killer. You basically follow them and soon it becomes clear that the killer is a little obsessed with Anna. Why her? Does she know him? Most of the fun to be had is how they investigate and how they interact with each other. Nothing to spectacular mind you. But Liam is extremely likeable even when is supposed to play an asshole. And he has some good chemistry with Stefania.  

The killer is only interesting because of the premise. The motive for the murders is very weak and boring. Real shame that they didn't add more depth or traits to the character. Even the interaction at the end felt a little underwhelming. Unless that is what Argento wanted to point out. Sometimes murderers are just losers and not the brilliants minds they claim to be. 

The mystery elements might not be the strongest but they are effective enough. The Card Player is a very decent thriller and certainly not the worst Dario Argento has made. So give it a chance!

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