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Movie review: Remarkable 'Dealt' explores the complex challenge of facing disability

POSTED November 18, 2017 11:09 p.m.
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“DEALT” — 4 stars — Richard Turner, Johnny Thompson, Max Maven, Armando Lucero; not rated, but likely PG for scattered profanity; Tower

Luke Korem’s “Dealt” is the moving story of Richard Turner, a fantastically talented performer who also happens to be blind. It is a remarkable documentary. Go see it.

As the film opens, we see him in a darkened room at Hollywood’s Magic Castle, about to perform a series of card tricks for a well-dressed, anxious audience. He introduces himself as the reason you should never play cards with a stranger, then proceeds to present a demonstration of card manipulation that is so fascinating most of the people in attendance fail to notice he can’t even see what he is doing.

We soon learn that Turner identifies not as a magician but as a card mechanic, which essentially means he is an expert card cheat. But rather than spend his career exploiting unsuspecting gamblers in Vegas casinos, Turner tours magic shows and expos, a virtual anti-gambling public service announcement in the flesh.

After this introduction, Korem takes us back to the performer’s youth, when, after a childhood spent obsessed with TV Westerns like James Garner’s “Maverick,” Turner was diagnosed with macular dystrophy. The progressive disease took several decades to completely rob Turner of his sight, so, almost out of spiteful determination, he spent his adolescence and young adulthood determined to live life to the fullest, often with dangerous results.

Along the way, Turner channeled his nervous energies into decks of cards, obsessively shuffling and handling the cards, mastering his future craft. These early habits led to what we see in the present day, as Turner shows us a closet in his bedroom full of what he estimates to be 5,000-6,000 decks of “premium” cards, the result of what he describes jokingly as his “two to three packs a day” routine.

We also meet Turner’s wife, Kim, and his son, Asa (short for Asa Spades Turner), who became his father’s unwitting protégé in both card mastery and obsessive physical fitness (a fellow mechanic points out the dangerous irony in Turner’s dual obsession with delicate card tricks and fist-smashing martial arts). Turner’s sister Lori, who experienced the same condition — losing her sight over the course of what she estimates at 60 seconds — is an inspiration in her own right, running a successful construction company.

Early on, Turner is presented as a finished product, a good-natured and genuinely happy family man who was able to channel his disability into a truly spectacular career. As we watch Turner perform, we see a seasoned performer who appears to be at the end of a very long and accomplished road.

This alone would make for a moving and inspirational documentary. But what makes “Dealt” truly ascendant, truly resonant, is what we learn through the film’s back half. Namely, that while Turner has been able to conquer his blindness, he still hasn’t conquered himself. The final 45 minutes of the movie delve deeper into Turner’s journey to reveal a man who is still deeply flawed and fighting to reconcile a disability he has worked his whole life to deny. It elevates Korem’s film from inspiring to essential.

The film’s story is deeply moving, and Korem wisely doesn’t doll it up with a lot of fancy, stylized cinematic sleight of hand. The more natural and focused result is a truly searching film that has value to anyone who wants to know how best to respond to loved ones or friends who deal with disabilities, or even how to handle their own challenges, physical or otherwise. “Dealt” will stick with you, and in this case, that’s a very good thing.

“Dealt" is not rated, but likely PG for scattered profanity; running time: 85 minutes.

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