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House of Cards: The Complete First Season(TV) (2013)
Ruthless and cunning, Congressman Francis Underwood and his wife Claire stop at nothing to conquer everything. This wicked political drama penetrates the shadowy world of greed, sex, and corruption in modern D.C. Kate Mara and Corey Stoll costar in the first original series from David Fincher and Beau Willimon
For more about House of Cards: The Complete First Season and the House of Cards: The Complete First Season Blu-ray release, see House of Cards: The Complete First Season Blu-ray Review published by Martin Liebman on June 7, 2013 where this Blu-ray release scored 3.5 out of 5.
Starring: Kevin Spacey, Robin Wright, Reuel Pendleton, Sakina Jaffrey, Michael Kelly, Kristen Connolly
Directors: David Fincher, James Foley, Allen Coulter, Carl Franklin, Charles McDougall, Joel Schumacher
» See full cast & crew
House of Cards: The Complete First Season Blu-ray Review
This show won't topple.
Reviewed by Martin Liebman, June 7, 2013
Welcome to Washington.
Modern adult-oriented television drama seems to have embraced dark tales of revenge, manipulation, a lust for power, and all kinds of evil conniving, the entire character roster made up of a bunch of no good, hateful, spiteful, self-centered, win-at-all-costs personalities. The drama yield is undeniably tense and relentless, and studios and filmmakers have been turning back the clock to explore these sorts of qualities. Programs like Spartacus and The Borgias are earning huge ratings and gaining significant followings by detailing the sordid lives of the morally corrupt from centuries past. But why go that far back in time when the modern American political landscape can do it just as well, just as deviously, just as devilishly, just as dramatically deliciously? House of Cards, a Netflix original Drama, tells the story of a wronged U.S. Congressman who will stop at nothing to work the system, hurt his enemies, and only help those who can help him. It's not quite so scandalous, sexy, or violent as those other programs, but it does beautifully cover similar ground and does a fine job of diving into the cesspool that is modern American politics.
Eleven-term South Carolina Congressman and House Majority Whip Francis Underwood (Kevin Spacey) has played a key role in the election of Democrat Garrett Walker (Michael Gill) to the Presidency of the United States. Underwood's reward: a promised posting as U.S. Secretary of State. In Washington, however, promises aren't worth the handshake they're made on. When Underwood learns from Walker's Chief of Staff Linda Vasquez (Sakina Jaffrey) that The President has decided to go another direction for State, believing Underwood's value to the party remains in the House, The Congressman sets out to destroy the President's nominee, Michael Kern (Kevin Kilner), and reshape the course of Washington, and Walker's Presidency, more in his favor. Underwood's wife Claire (Robin Wright), who heads a D.C. nonprofit, backs his scheme. Underwood's first order of business is to take charge of the Education bill coming out of the White House by leaking the far-left leaning first draft to rookie Washington Herald writer Zoe Barnes (Kate Mara), an ambitious young journalist whose sudden connection with the high-ranking Congressman makes her instant front-page news and a thorn in the side of the Herald's White House Correspondent Janine Skorsky (Constance Zimmer) and its Editor, Tom Hammerschmidt (Boris McGiver). Meanwhile, Underwood enlists the aid of a young and morally flawed Eastern Pennsylvania Congressman named Peter Russo (Corey Stoll) to play a critical part in his plan to remake Washington in his image.
All of that makes for fine drama, but it's also rather disheartening to watch House of Cards play out with the realization in mind that this is probably a bit tame compared to the real sort of shady cloakroom deals and excess manipulation that takes place in Washington, D.C. The scope of corruption, scandal, hate, coercion, and all other forms of malfeasance must be staggering, well beyond even all that becomes public knowledge. House of Cards brilliantly works the system in its depiction of the moral decay at work in Washington, a place, the program demonstrates, that's less about public service and more about bad people doing bad things and the bad people putting down the few good people for their own agenda, agendas which usually don't mean a thing in the arena of public benefit but that amount to quite a bit for their own personal and financial bottom lines. There's not even so much of the old "I'll scratch your back if you'll scratch mine" but rather "I'll rip you to shreds if you don't scratch mine, and if you don't scratch it just as I demand." It's ugly business where ugly shouldn't exist. It's a fact of life, but at least with House of Cards television viewers can find at least a little bit of entertainment light from an otherwise darkened, long-decayed cornerstone of the American experiment.
The arcing story of House of Cards flows very well. It's a very fluid, organic tale, one fueled by all the Washington turmoil but solidified by some excellent performances. The program works as well as it does largely because it's infinitely believable; there's not a sight, sound, or syllable that feels manipulated or in any way something other than plausible at worst and realistic at best. The series travels through moral darkness with a strikingly believable rhythm to every step, offset by an almost gleeful cast of main characters who find a perverse pleasure in not just working the system, but taking advantage of it and using their own political skill to alter the landscape in their favor. Every character is in some way flawed -- spiteful, manipulative, dishonest, addicted, naive, oblivious -- and the program skillfully uses each and every one of those to fuel the drama and constantly shift the landscape for better or for worse, and usually the latter even if, on the individual level, it's for the former. Just as important, the production design proves top-notch in every scene; whether the Oval Office or a run-down apartment, whether a back alley rib shack or a shindig where all of the elite rub elbows with one another, House of Cards exudes a very real sense of location authenticity that will leave viewers believing it's all real or, at the very least, filmed on-location.
Yet for all these positives, it's the cast that's the glue that brings it all together, the gears that make it tick. Kevin Spacey is marvelous in the lead. Not only does he do the South Carolina accent well, he feels like a born-and-bred Southerner, a master of the colloquialisms and metaphors he so often speaks, delivering them like an old pro, like somebody who's spent his enter life amongst his constituents and, outside of the suit and tie and power thirst and manipulation is really, at heart, one of them. His breaking of the fourth wall -- his offhand comments to the audience, sometimes delivered in full view or earshot of other characters but with no effect on the greater story -- gives the entire program a far more personal appeal and understanding, makes it all seem more involved and immediate rather than strictly third-person detached. The show does a wonderful job of shaping the relationship between Spacey's Francis and the character's wife, Claire; there's certainly a grey area to the relationship, particularly at first, that's slowly colored in as the season progresses, and that doubt about the intimate little details brings a heightened drama to all that plays out over the course of the thirteen chapters. Corey Stoll is fantastic as the drug- and alcohol-addicted Congressman who finds himself -- and potentially all his sins -- very much in the public spotlight when Francis finds in him the perfect pawn to further his own agenda. Kate Mara is also very good as the ambitious and confident but nevertheless wet-behind-the-years young journalist who also finds herself playing a significantly larger role in Washington politics than she could have ever imagined.
House of Cards: The Complete First Season Blu-ray, Video Quality
House of Cards: The Complete First Season's digital shoot translates well to Blu-ray, though viewers who dislike the smooth, glossy sheen of HD photography won't be pleased. Sony's high definition presentation takes on that inorganic and very flat digital appearance. It's a rather dark and drab image on the whole, appearing regularly washed out and with muted colors. Only the occasional splash of bolder shades mix into an otherwise deliberately dreary and sterile palette. The image is quite stable, however, and naturally sharp all around. Details are excellent, with close-ups commanding the attention of even the most demanding videophiles with a natural complexity and ease of delivery that proves rather striking with every glance. Backgrounds and foregrounds alike enjoy nearly faultless precision, though some light banding is scattered around the season. Black levels are generally strong, with only the occasional hint of crush or push towards a purple-tinted shade. Additionally, sporadic noise appears across some darker backdrops. Flesh tones range from somewhat warm to very cold, largely depending on the surrounding light sources and styles. It's certainly not as attractive as film but it looks quite good for a sterile and unwelcoming digital production.
House of Cards: The Complete First Season Blu-ray, Audio Quality
House of Cards: The Complete First Season arrives on Blu-ray with a rock-solid DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 lossless soundtrack. It's surprisingly active and rich, with plenty of sonically interesting and intense moments that give an otherwise talk-heavy Drama some excitement. Dialogue plays firmly and accurately from the center, and for all the surrounding elements it never becomes lost or jumbled in the occasional mayhem. There's a very nice full-on power display with the opening title music. It plays with some very strong bass and fantastic spacing all around, including a robust surround support. The track incorporates some quality environmental effects, mostly in the form of hectic D.C. background sounds but also some more natural country atmosphere heard when Underwood returns to his home district in South Carolina. The track really springs to life with crowds; an outdoor party in chapter five features a very lively, very enveloping environment that's so alive with sound it practically places the listener in the middle of the excitement. Likewise, blaring protests on the other side of the street enjoy just as much activity and clarity. These and other more heavily charged elements give a nice shape to the presentation and ensure the listening audience is always right there in the middle of the action. All around, a fine track from Sony.
House of Cards: The Complete First Season Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
House of Cards: The Complete First Season contains no supplemental content.
House of Cards: The Complete First Season Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
House of Cards: The Complete First Season doesn't represent the pinnacle of the dark, morally bankrupt dealings and the people who engage in them sort of modern Drama that's all the rage, but it's a sound, balanced, smartly scripted, wonderfully acted, and fully addictive program about the dirty dealings in the nation's capital. Political junkies and ardent news and opinion absorbers who live and die by the headline, the candidate, the rally, the speech, and on election night will find it most appealing, but casual audiences might be turned off by the very real sense of being on the inside and the depth of the politics portrayed in the show. Sony's Blu-ray release of House of Cards: The Complete First Season features fine video and audio. However, no extras are included. Nevertheless, the release earns a recommendation for those who closely follow the world of politics.
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