Joker’s Wild

The coolest of the cool guys inhabit Shade. It’s a movie world designed for men first. Topless women straddle glass ceilings in dance clubs, and strippers slide down poles for background decoration. Seated at poker tables, high-stress and high-dollar games play out, with tough guys all around. Occasionally, a staged shoot-out to brings in excitement, where men stare one another down, guns pointed in a testosterone stand off.

Released in 2003, Shade hit right at pro poker’s pop culture deluge. Online gambling’s push turned cards into a spectator sport; Shade used that as a catalyst for a story about poker con men conning cons. It’s a fun back-and-forth, snaking around itself repeatedly to keep up the surprises. Mostly, Shade turns the culture into something palatable, but with an infection of the early ‘00s: choppy flashbacks, slow motion, black & white stills. All Shade needs is a Matrix bullet time segment to complete the cliche checklist.

All Shade needs is a Matrix bullet time segment to complete the cliche checklist

Sylvester Stallone’s name hangs on the marquee. That’s expected given the period. Stallone headed a slew of so-so thrillers once the millennium turned over, with regretful stuff like Eye See You and Avenging Angelo; it’s doubtful Stallone himself remembers those, much like Bruce Willis is unlikely to recall his current output. Shade falls in line with those, if with more success given the natural tension within $500k poker hands.

Primarily, Shade belongs to Stuart Townsend. He’s the card trickster who knows how to deal, working in tandem with Thandie Newton and Gabriel Byrne to soak the rich of their easy cash. Shade references a post-9/11 recession, drawing a quick empathetic burst as to make these crimes not so heartless. The general arrogance from those being scammed creates fast villains.

Under the opening credits, director Damian Nieman’s hands show off card tricks. His only directorial credit to date, Nieman plays to his own past as a sleight-of-hand artist. A lot of Shade appears to project his own experiences, dressed up with action movie touches. It’s serviceable material, with Stallone only a cameo until the final reel. That puts a lot in Townsend’s lap and he proves capable, even when up against Jamie Foxx (one year before Ray) in a small role.

Video

Being from 2003, the pervasive dirt and dust settling onto this print is unfortunate. It’s not that old, yet Shade appears as if stored out in the open for a decade before being scanned onto this Blu-ray.

Otherwise Shade looks fine. Whatever the source, MVD debuts a pleasing image on Blu-ray. Resolution draws out enough texture in close-ups, while encoding handles smoky table scenes without trouble. Grain remains consistently pure throughout.

Generous contrast brings plentiful dimension. Highlights firmly produce brightness without clipping. The same goes for black levels, dense and rich when needed. Opening scenes pan through a club, a mixture of laser lights and pure black, an early case for what’s to come.

A slightly heavy, early ‘00s color grade skews flesh tones toward peach, leaving the palette unfazed elsewhere. Felt tables saturate green, with primary heftiness solid in each scene. Flashbacks turn a hearty blue.

Audio

With PCM stereo and DTS-HD 5.1 options, it’s likely Shade’s original mix was only two channel. Note this doesn’t minimize a fine 5.1 track. Activity maintains a constant presence, from bars and clubs proving ambient. Things pick up during the few action scenes, sending bullets around, catching rear channels with accuracy, if not the most discrete effects.

From the score, a tight bass line stands out. A few shotgun blasts stretch dynamic range.

Extras

Brief interviews with the main cast and an EPK prove easily skippable. Director Damian Nieman tells his story while showing off his card skills in a 14-minute featurette that rates as the best bonus here.

Full disclosure: This Blu-ray was provided to us for review. This has not affected the editorial process. For information on how we handle review material, please visit our about us page to learn more.

Shade
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A fun trip through the world of high stakes gambling con men, Shade finds enough tension between bouts of early ’00s filmmaking.

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