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The Weekend Australian - Review - - Film - Michael Bodey Twit­ter: @michael­bodey

I WAS pre­dis­posed to like House of Cards. Per­haps I could have pre-empted it with the smug opin­ion that noth­ing could com­pare with the 1990 Bri­tish se­ries and Ian Richard­son’s malev­o­lent per­for­mance. But I love po­lit­i­cal thrillers. And I like David Fincher’s films, even if their frigid­ity and cyn­i­cism needs to be coun­tered by a screen­ing of a Doris Day movie.

House of Cards is the US adap­ta­tion of the Bri­tish se­ries about a con­niv­ing politi­cian whose am­bi­tion for lead­er­ship is thwarted, send­ing him into at­tack mode. The US adap­ta­tion was an­tic­i­pated be­cause of the in­volve­ment of Fincher, di­rec­tor of Seven and The So­cial Net­work, and Kevin Spacey, who plays an Amer­i­can ver­sion of Fran­cis Urquhart, in this in­car­na­tion a slick Demo­cratic house ma­jor­ity whip, Fran­cis Un­der­wood.

But much of the in­ter­est also con­cerned where it played, not who it came from. House of Cards pre­miered on US sub­scrip­tion TV ser­vice Net­flix and all 13 episodes were avail­able for down­load im­me­di­ately. The hul­la­baloo shel­tered the se­ries from much crit­i­cism; its flaws were ig­nored in the rush to an­nounce ‘‘Golly gosh! They’ve spent $100 mil­lion on a se­ries that isn’t be­ing broad­cast on tele­vi­sion!’’

And, truth be told, Fincher was the ‘‘set-up di­rec­tor’’ of the first two episodes be­fore James Fo­ley ( Glen­garry Glen Ross) and oth­ers took over. That’s not to say House of Cards is bad. In­deed, it’s rather good and will be­come the first non-broad­cast pro­gram to earn Emmy nom­i­na­tions, if not awards.

The medium ac­tu­ally suited the chill­ing se­ries. House of Cards (MA15+, Univer­salSony, 656min, $39.99) mark II is adult fare un­suited to any of the free broad­cast net­works and per­haps is one of those se­ries that is bet­ter watched in binge batches. Given its lack of heart, would it have sus­tained an au­di­ence that had to wait a week for each episode? Be­sides, it is Shake­spearean in its plot­ting and risque and pro­tracted in its dia­logue and, oc­ca­sion­ally, a lit­tle un­be­liev­able. The se­ries waxes and wanes, al­beit not as frus­trat­ingly as Aaron Sorkin’s The News­room. The the­atri­cal tone takes a cou­ple of episodes to counter and we have seen Spacey play a shark many times be­fore. Ul­ti­mately it is in­volv­ing enough, though, rev­el­ling in Fincher’s por­trayal of a bru­tal Wash­ing­ton and lead per­for­mances by Spacey, Robin Wright as his wife, Claire, and Kate Mara as the blog­ger Zoe Barnes that re­ally pop.

Like much of Fincher’s work though, no mat­ter how smart it looks and feels, House of Cards is soul­less, just like its pro­tag­o­nists. That’s no bad thing though. It only con­firms what we fear about politi­cians and in a year in which po­lit­i­cal junkies have been well served by a much im­proved sec­ond se­ries of Veep and the sub­lime Dan­ish drama Bor­gen, I’ll take it happily.

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