2017, NR, 85 min. Directed by Luke Korem.
REVIEWED By Steve Davis, Fri., Nov. 3, 2017
Please don’t call the compulsively driven and obsessively motivated sixtysomething Richard Turner – the subject of this captivating documentary – a magician or an illusionist. In the preferred parlance, he’s a card mechanic, a person who can control the outcome of a table game, a player with whom you should never play blackjack or any other gambling amusement for money. And, at one time, he would have asked that you never qualify his amazing sleight-of-hand talents by mentioning he’s completely blind, for reasons both understandable and yet not. (You can almost see him bristle on-camera when the host of a vintage television show on which he long ago appeared, such as ABC’s chestnut That’s Incredible!, makes this mistake.) This film respectfully recounts how, for most of his life, the fiercely stubborn Turner perceived his sightlessness as a weakness that would diminish his achievements in the eyes of the world (for example, he had always refused to learn Braille or use a cane), without fully appreciating others’ perception of him as an extraordinary man whose visual impairment has not limited his ambitions. While macular degeneration robbed him of his eyesight at age 9, the disease did not steal the life of this remarkable human being, as evidenced by his present physical prowess, mental acuity, and infectious joy for life. No question: It’s easy to see why Richard Turner is the stuff of inspiration, regardless of whether he wants to you think so or not.
What starts off as a fascinating look at the accomplishments of this shuffling virtuoso who effortlessly executes card tricks to the bewilderment of his audiences at Hollywood’s Magic Castle and other venues (you’ll be open-mouthed and slack-jawed as well – how did he do that?) soon becomes an even more fascinating character study about an individual struggling to come to terms with his identity. Austin-based director Korem gives Turner wide latitude to be himself, revealing both his subject matter’s admirable attributes, as well as the darker implications of those character traits, such as the burdens he imposes on family members like his devoted teenage son named (get this) Asa Spades, who accompanies him on his various public appearances and serves in the capacity of his sighted interpreter of the world. Although Turner’s epiphany occurs off camera after Asa leaves home for college and he decides to incorporate his remarkable life (including his blindness) into his new show, it’s still gratifying to see him at the end of this documentary a happier man who has come far to accept who he is. If only all of our third acts turned out that way.