Game of Aces is a period piece that doesn’t suffer from that inescapable stench of the period piece. It isn’t stuffy with the air of a different time and place. Many times, a period piece drama, especially those centered around wartime, will have the distinct feel of a re-enactment: heavy-handed, taking itself too seriously, and yet still somehow superficial. Game of Aces, in spite of its clearly tight budget, gets by on its lighter tone.
The film begins anachronistic to this idea. “There is no pain,” a downed fighter pilot (Werner Daehn) whispers to himself as he dislodges a piece of shrapnel from his leg. We are then cut away to a man (Chris Klein) pitching baseballs to himself in the middle of a desert in Cairo. “There are three kinds of people in the world,” his character begins explaining in voiceover. “Those who make it happen. Those who watch it happen. And those who spend their lives asking: ‘What happened’?”
In a way, this is the dichotomous narrative of Game of Aces. As the injured German pilot stews in what surely will be his sandy tomb, The American ex-pilot, grounded for his own reasons, glibly makes drunken remarks to the partner (Victoria Summer) he accepted with reluctance as they search for the German soldier. All three characters have their stories, however conventional they may be, while not falling into the trap of becoming figureheads of a larger retrospective message.
The first act of the film proceeds in this split fashion. Then the paths converge in an interesting way, with fortunes shifting for some. Summer establishes a rapport with both male leads during this convergence, showing an adept use of two tones and two languages. Klein and Daehn also give strong performances, one through many words and the other through few.
In many respects, Game of Aces is a contained narrative set in a vast expanse of wasteland. The story weaved around these three characters is not overly complex, but it is intriguing. Admittedly, the turn of one character, while interesting on a narrative front, comes at the expense of the actor’s performance, which suffers from the sudden change.
The film is well-shot to account for the setting. The desert is captured in many elegant extreme long shots, but when it comes to the characters themselves they are almost always seen in tight closeups and two-shots. What we get as a result is a distinct feeling of isolation that is perfect for the tone of this light drama.
Game of Aces may show its budget on its sleeve, but this is not to discredit the film for what it is. The film does not require anything flashy to get by; it relies on narrative and character. While it isn’t breaking any new ground, it is a satisfying indie drama for those itching for a weaving tale of characters deserted.
As always, thanks for reading!
Like CineFiles on Facebook for updates on new articles and reviews.
—Alex Brannan (@TheAlexBrannan)