By: Shannon Page
For anyone who isn’t up on their poker terms, a “cold deck” refers to a deck of cards that has been prearranged in an order that is meant to result in a specific outcome when dealt. In other words, a cold deck has been fixed for the benefit of the player that switches it with the original deck. Unlike a deck that is used for a full game, a fixed deck is cooler to the touch because it hasn’t been warmed by the player’s hands.
It’s a fitting title for Zack Bernbaum’s tightly wound crime-drama that explores the usual heist flick themes of risk versus reward, along with a more nuanced probing of blue-collar masculinity. Stéfano Gallo (The Collapsed, I Choose Chaos), who produced and co-wrote Cold Deck with Jason Lapeyre, plays a young factory worker and wannabe card shark named Bobby. When Bobby and his best friend (Kerr Hewitt) find themselves in financial trouble, an old friend of Bobby’s deceased father (Paul Sorvino) convinces them to pull off a high-stakes heist on a private poker game.
Unlike most heist films, Cold Deck refuses to romanticize crime or gambling. The decision to take a grittier, more realistic approach to its subject matter lends substance to the film and gives the viewer something to contemplate after the credits roll – though audiences who are expecting to be asked to grapple with such themes may find some scenes a little too heavy-handed. Still, the “cold deck” metaphor works on this level as well as with the film’s straightforward look at the realities that face young men from working-class backgrounds. The issue of class and the cycle of poverty is at the heart of the film. During a particularly revealing moment, Bobby tells his mother: “Every time I tried to do something big, you guys pushed me back down. ‘No, Bobby, that’s not what people like us do’”. One could say that the cards have been stacked against him from the very beginning.
Thankfully, not everything is quite so heavy. Sorvino steals every scene he’s in and manages to bring intensity to a role that could’ve been a hollow caricature. Though there isn’t as much depth to be found in the vengeful role played by Prison Break’s Robert Knepper, his performance as Turk brings some much needed energy to the screen.
Despite some pacing issues and a few moments where the momentum is a little too inconsistent, the film manages to carefully negotiate the border between fun and thoughtful. It is the way that Bobby’s transformation is handled, in particular, that’s so impressive and understated. Gallo does an impressive job portraying a hero that is – in the beginning at least – almost impossible to root for. But, the audience’s investment in Bobby’s success is a slow and effective build – one which makes the conclusion all the more satisfying.
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Shannon Page: @ShannonEvePage