Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

"Subjects as intriguing as this aren't always very interesting on camera. Dealt gets lucky."

If ever there were a man born to be a hustler, it was Richard Turner. A likeable sixtysomething skilled in charming an audience, he can manipulate cards so brilliantly that it seems supernatural, presenting incredibly complex tricks that dazzle and delight audiences at his shows. He's also completely blind. But Richard doesn't like people making a fuss about his disability. The fact is, his genius would be no less astonishing if he could see.

From early in his life, Richard was determined to become the best in the world. This didn't just extend to cards. His friends recount a history of daredevil behaviour that grew more nerve-racking - for them, at least - as he lost his sight. It simply never seems to have occurred to him to slow down. He hates it when people try to treat him with kid gloves, and insisted on earning his black belt in karate in the same brutal way as anyone else. He's now an award-winning magician at the very top of his profession, and Dealt tells his story.

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Subjects as intriguing as this aren't always very interesting on camera. Dealt gets lucky. Offstage and out of the stylish outfits that help him make his presence felt, Turner retains a quiet charisma which, together with his ever-present sense of humour and his remarkable stubbornness, ensures that there are no dull moments in this two-hour film. As well as going over the events of his past (with the aid of photographs and old video footage), the film follows him through a new journey as he gradually comes to terms with the fact that using certain disability aids doesn't mean giving up and can enhance his life. These are not for work, however - they give him more independence on his daily walks and enable him to use the internet. Dealing with other people for whom disability is just a fact of life seems to make him less uncomfortable about acknowledging it.

If there is one flaw in the film, it is that it focuses on his blindness a little too much and thereby risks missing the real magic. Richard's rediscovery of parts of the world he had lost is a fascinating story but what makes him special is not his efforts to do what others take for granted, it is his ability to do what others can only wonder at. Tellingly, he is rarely seen without a deck of cards in his hand. He takes us to a room where he stores cards, old boxes and new ones, treasured parts of his collection and the ones he works through every day. They always have to be new, of course, so they move freely. He's not the kind of magician afraid to explain how tricks work, and shows us a few, but watching him perform them is still breathtaking, the control he exercises every bit as impressive as the effect.

Richard's whole life is structured around cards. He even named his young protégé Asa Spades. The boy is already impressive (though it's much harder to do card tricks with small hands) and is picking up the patter. Unlike many similarly talented people in other fields, Richard never seems to get bored of what he does, giving him something of the character of a sensei. It's his obsessiveness that has brought him this far, and that obsession ensures his continued satisfaction - but for the fact that he is always convinced he can achieve something greater.

A lively and endlessly fascinating documentary that achieves a rewarding intimacy with its subject, Dealt holds all the aces.

Reviewed on: 14 Jan 2018
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A documentary portrait of brilliant card magician Richard Turner.

Director: Luke Korem

Writer: Bradley Jackson, Luke Korem

Starring: Richard Turner, Johnny Thompson, Max Maven, Asa Spades Turner

Year: 2017

Runtime: 85 minutes

Country: US


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