Netflix hit a home run with its innovative original series House of Cards. All 13 episodes of House of Cards were available for streaming on February 1, and what a joy it was to binge watch compelling television drama commercial-free.
Kevin Spacey plays Francis Underwood, a consummate politician who is serving as Majority Whip in the House of Representatives. He is ambitious, but when he is passed over as Secretary of State nominee -- a position to which he had been promised -- by the new President, Underwood plots his revenge shrewdly, with both bold and subtle political maneuverings and forays into illegal activity.
As Underwood, Spacey gives a sublime performance. He's smarmy, calculating, testy, intelligent, and ruthless. He is aided by excellent scripts, fine direction, and an excellent cast. House of Cards uses a cinematic technique device where Underwood talks directly to the audience on occasion. Somehow, this device works magnificently in the context of this show. A lot of credit has to be given to director David Fincher, who serves as one of the producers. Fincher directed the first two episodes which set the show's look and tone.
I expected Spacey to be excellent in his role, but I was unprepared for the truly superb work of Robin Wright as Underwood's equally ambitious wife Claire. While Claire shares Francis's lofty political ambitions, she also has a career running an international nonprofit organization. Wright captures every nuance of the character of Claire. I always knew Wright was a solid actress but I never knew she was this talented. She and Spacey shine as a team.
Joining the Emmy-worthy performances of Spacey and Wright is Corey Stoll in a supporting turn as Representative Peter Russo. Russo is a likable guy who happens to have a drug problem, and because of that, he unwillingly becomes Underwood's pawn. It's a vibrant, force-of-nature performance. Stoll first came to my attention by stealing his scenes as Ernest Hemingway in Woody Allen's film Midnight in Paris. After seeing him score so superbly in House of Cards, I can't wait to see where he will turn up next. It's been a long time since I've been this enthused about an actor arriving on the scene.
All of the other parts are well cast. Kate Mara plays a journalist who becomes an uncomfortable ally of Underwood. Gerald McRaney shows up as a billionaire friend of the President in the last couple of episodes. Michael Kelly does nice work as Underwood's right hand man Doug Stamper, an aide who knows most of Underwood's secrets. Sakina Jaffrey plays the President's Chief of Staff who proves to be a politician very nearly Underwood's equal. Michael Gill is very good as President Garrett Walker, a charismatic man who is not the sharpest politician in Washington.
On the insignificant negative side of things, the cinematography was quite dark throughout the series, particularly in the many night scenes. There was an episode in the middle of the series where Underwood received an award from his alma mater; that episode did not advance the story very much. All in all, House of Cards is an impressive achievement. The title of the show is a great one for this series as it always seems that the house of cards is beginning to fall. I am eager for Season 2. Grade: A
I watched House of Cards via Netflix Streaming between February 8 and 11th, 2013.