The United States of Frank

It’s a coincidence that today is Valentine’s, but of course it’s a fitting hook to talk about Frank again. What do you think he would give Claire on a day like this? Totally nothing! He would consider it pathetic just like his birthday gifts. This little example beautifully begins to offer insight in the mind of F.U..

He’s an unscrupulous, ruthless, opportunistic crook who has risen to political power and will do everything and anything to retain and protect that power just like some mafia patron. In his world, every word, every action, every asset, every man is a means to an end. When you think it through and consider where most mafia bosses ended up, it could give you an idea where Frank is heading. Yet at the same time it’s just brilliant to see it play out, no matter how dire the consequences. If nothing else, this is by far the strongest, most important point about House of Cards – it doesn’t flinch and shy away from the ugliness of politics and flawed human characters. The series is of course full of the latter and Mr. Underwood is surrounded/ has surrounded himself with people of similar upbringing, be that Doug Stamper, Remy Denton or his wife, making for a very intricate, very dark setting a lot of times.

This is – and I maintain that position from my previous posts on this subject – perhaps also the greatest weakness. At times, things get headache-inducingly convoluted and dreary. Lightening the mood every now and then and bringing some things to a quicker closure would do good. While I have no issue with setting up long story arcs and resolving them only after many episodes, there’s just often too many loose threads to pick up. On top of it it seems there is some odd need to throw everyone in the fray “just because they can”. That piece about Freddy‘s BBQ joint and his fall from grace for instance seemed unnecessary – it didn’t tell us anything about Frank, robbed us of some potential future story developments and was written so poorly, it took you out of the overall mood. There are a few other such hiccups, though of course in general the writing is top notch way above your average weekly CSI episode. The series kept me hooked and with season 3 now finished, I already crave for season 4. Those months when they release it on Blu-Ray near the end of the year will feel like an eternity no doubt.

Despite being a CG artist, when it comes to film production I consider myself an oldschool person so it goes without saying that I’m more than pleased with the “production values”. In a day and age where even lo-fi productions are full of green screen for (often rather shoddy) set extensions and have cheesy fake UI screens it’s a nice change of pace to look at some gorgeous real sets. It must cost them quite a hefty penny to re-create those locations in all their details and shoot on location, but every bit of it shows. Regardless of this, the lighting and color often still take a lot of getting used to and until they mentioned “heightened reality” in the special features’ making of, I didn’t quite know how to describe it, but yes, it’s exactly that. By using natural light sources a lot they have to use specific camera settings and possibly crank up the ISO on those RED files during post work, too, which gives this somewhat sepia-ish, high contrast feel to many scenes. It reminds me a bit of those long scenes in the The Godfather movies, where you’d see people sitting in the restaurants after closing hours…

To bring this to a close: Aside from my criticism about some aspects, I’m totally taken. It’s just an excellent production. I must be one of the few people on this planet who don’t torrent this stuff and thus get to see it later than everyone else, but after bingeing on 3 seasons I have gotten my taste of blood, too, in a way. The trailer for season 4 at least already has me salivating and makes me wish I a) had a decent broadband Internet (still stuck on my crappy 1.5 MBit DSL; this year will bring some changes, though) and b) a Netflix subscription…

 

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