On February 1 Netflix dropped its latest original series: House of Cards, a political drama from David Fincher starring Kevin Spacey, Robin Wright, Kate Mara, and Corey Stoll. If you are not watching this show you need to start immediately (well after you finish reading this month's J. Pub.).
The show, as David Fincher loves to do, is based on a British novel about a Whip who plots to become the leader of his party. That is the basic plot outline Fincher and writer Beau Willimon use except we are looking at Washington, not Parliament. The story is driven, as the title suggests, by the premise that our federal government does not work like it is supposed to. We begin to see how greedy, ruthless, and self-serving every single one of our nation's power players is almost from the beginning. Government action is not based on what is best for the country but how it serves as a rung for these men and women to climb the ladder.
The casting of the show is excellent, especially when you consider this is a straight to streaming endeavor. Kevin Spacey plays the lead character Francis "Frank" Underwood, the Democratic Whip in the House. He is from the Up Country South Carolina, but don't let his molasses dripped drawl fool you. We see from the very first, gut-wrenching scene, just how cold, calculating, and ruthless he is. His wife (played by Robin Wright, or Jenny as most of us know her), the head of an influential NPO, is the definition of a modern Lady Macbeth. Power drives this couple and it is the only thing that matters.
The other two leads have the unfortunate luck of getting caught up in Frank's plot to the top. Kate Mara, sister to Rooney Mara of Fincher's The Girl With The Dragon Tatoo, plays Zoe, an ambitious journalist looking for a big break. While she may play naïve, it is clear that Zoe knows a thing or two. Unfortunately for her she has stepped into the lion's den where she is going to need all of her wits and intelligence to even stand a chance. And lastly is Corey Stoll, who you may remember as the charming Earnest Hemingway in Midnight in Paris. Stoll plays Peter Russo, who appears at first to be the stereotypical out of control congressman: sleeping with his top assistant, substance abuse problems, a fondness for hookers, etc., but we soon see that there is some good and some drive in this man, he just is a broken human being. What sucks for him is that these are the sorts of people Frank uses and abuses in order climb the ladder of power.
After the incredible performances given not only by the four leads, but also a great supporting cast, the most enjoyable aspect of the show is its style. David Fincher directed the pilot and really set the visual tone for the series. It rightly adapts his stunning yet sterile style to convey how grand and powerful yet cold and inhuman this world is. As so often with Fincher works the visuals tell the story. He and subsequent directors use lighting incredibly well: the Underwood house is either dark or lit up like an operating room with intense, white, artificial light, perfect for the lair of two plotting geniuses; or how Frank is always obscured by shadow when he is making his backroom deals. Even the framing of each shot is carefully crafted. There is a scene a few episodes in where he makes Zoe take off her heels and we see her shrink down from over Frank's shoulder, as he looms, towering in the foreground, setting a wonderful tone for their relationship. The other stylistic note is Frank constantly breaks the fourth wall. He interacts with the audience spilling the constant machinations of his power-hungry mind for all to see. It does great to add just a touch of humanity to the central character so we do not hate him from the beginning.
The execution on House of Cards is marvelous. It is excellently cast and wonderfully shot. It is also refreshing to see Hollywood admit that Democrats are just as greedy, arrogant, and self-serving as the media tries to paint Republicans. The show really captures what is wrong with American politics in a grandiose, magnificent, and powerful way.
Matt Anderson is a 3L at the University of Richmond School of Law. Submit comments and letters to the editor at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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