Dealt ★★★½


There is nothing particularly notable about Dealt as a documentary. In fact it is a standard-issue character study, and its arc is relatively predictable. We learn about Richard Turner, the "card mechanic" who has been obsessively mastering the art of playing-card manipulation from a very early age. We see him perform unimaginably difficult maneuvers with the 52. And then we learn that he went blind as a child and has been rebelling against society's expectations of the "disabled" ever since.

I just happen to find Dealt entertaining, despite its slavish adherence to convention. Turner is a compelling figure, partly because he represents an ideal of masculinity that is tied to a particular moment in history, something unique to my father's generation. He modelled his identity on cowboy movies and the TV show "Maverick," and so his style of being became that of the "honest cheat," the guy who baffles you but never really takes advantage of his superior skills.

It's a notion of honor and nobility that is so time-bound that it practically belongs in a museum. But what makes Turner so fascinating is the degree to which his blindness, for him, represented a disruption of that manly narrative. He was forced to overcompensate, even though no one ever expected him to. As a result, be created himself as an outsized figure of ruggedness and daring, tempered by a genuine warmth and humility that might not have been there otherwise.

And the cards are always in his hand. It's as if they provide a sort of surrogate sight, the flipping sound of the shuffle serving as an echo-location whereby Turner can bring interesting, respectful people into his orbit. He always speaks about wanting his skills to be recognized on their own merits, and he is a brilliant cardsman by any measure. But the fact that he has made a life's work out of tracking and manipulating 52 objects that all feel exactly the same is not something so easily dismissed. If he can "fix" that sameness, see through it and feel the absolute distinctions, than he can smooth out the unexpected challenges of each new day.