House of Cards review (DVD)

House of Cards, the 13-part series commissioned by Netflix and released all at once (a la Arrested Development) is now out on DVD. OK, so it’s been available to watch in the comfort of your own home, whenever you want, for more than four months. But DVDs come with extras and... wait, nope, no extras. Not seen it yet? You’re in for a treat.

Majority Whip Frank Underwood is a man who means business. Ruthlessly ambitious and more than happy to crush anyone who gets in his way, he’s intent on scheming and manipulating his way to the top. His wife, Claire, head of the non-profit Clean Water Initiative, is similarly pitiless and driven; his closest confidant yet fiercely independent. As a couple their main common interest is clear: an insatiable thirst for power. So when Frank is passed over for a job he was promised, it’s not pretty. He sets about exacting his revenge with a Patrick Bateman-like zeal and those who’ve stood in his way quickly start to topple. Yet his wrathful rampage is soon beset by trouble and we’re left wondering how he’s going to hold it all together.

What could be a very serious, joyless political drama is anything but. Frank frequently indulges us with asides to the camera, always ready with a witty maxim or happy to tell the viewer what he “can’t abide”. Spacey exudes a devious charm and, villain though he may be, you can’t help but enjoy being along for the ride. Wright is also fantastically cast and perfectly captures Claire’s complexity as a character: deftly hinting at conflicting undertones beneath her cool exterior. Entangled in Underwood’s web are Pete Russo (Stoll), a drug and alcohol addicted congressman battling his demons and trying to get his life back on track and Zoe Barnes (Mara), a young, hungry journalist looking for her big break. House of Cards is a brilliant meditation on the price of ambition, with Barnes and Russo toying with the abandonment of moral integrity an intriguing contrast to Frank’s outright distain for the concept. We see him use their desires to further his own ends but there’s always tension and conflict that keep both Frank and the viewer on their toes.

So if it’s readily available on Netflix, why buy it on DVD? Well, because it’s brilliantly acted, fast paced, smart and tightly plotted: tailor made for voracious consumption, but well worth going back to again and again. Everything the jewel of a DVD collection should be.

EXTRAS Move along, nothing to see here ...

Stuart O'Connor is the Managing Editor of Screenjabber, the movie review website he co-founded with Neil Davey far too many years ago. He likes all genres, as long as the film is good (although he does enjoy the occasional bad "guilty pleasure"), and drinks way too much coffee.

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