Yeah, this has Paul Schrader written all over it. The Card Counter is a slow-burning character study that’s always engaging, always captivating. Oscar Isaac and Tiffany Haddish are fantastic, and their chemistry together is strong. Plus, I would love to see Haddish in more future dramas.
Like in all Paul Schrader films (director of First Reformed, writer of Taxi Driver and Raging Bull), The Card Counter has his signature feature of a protagonist on a self-destructive path. Through sin and sometimes salvation, our protagonist tries to transcend on a redemptive arc. Schrader likes to throw his audience into the broken mind of his protagonist that he displays on the screen. Often, it allows the audience to see all of the demons laying out to dry right before your very eyes. In The Card Counter, we follow a gambler (a phenomenal Oscar Isaac) who taught himself how to count cards during his eight-year stint in military prison. William Tell (Isaac) is a troubled man whose dark past grows more frightening the more we know about him. We learn that Tell was an ex-military interrogator at the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq. As many know, during the early stages of the Iraq War, the Abu Ghraib prison became a place of torture where the United States Army and the CIA committed a series of major human rights violations and war crimes against the detainees.
The Abu Ghraib tortures and prisoner abuses were horrendous and will never be justified. In the film, Tell gets caught in a series of photographs, where he is convicted and has to do time. During these flashback scenes at Abu Ghraib, Schrader uses a fisheye lens to capture the horrors of the prison, giving off a paralyzing effect. These flashbacks are one small aspect of The Card Counter. Another crucial part of the plot involves a retired Major (a powerful Willem Dafoe) who got away clean from the Abu Ghraib tortures; a son (Tye Sheridan) who wants revenge for his father's death; and an investor (a fantastic Haddish) who backs gamblers for a portion of their winnings. All of these subplots intermingle throughout the picture until they all become tangled in a knot too hard to undo. Isaac's character likes living a life in the shadows. He enjoys staying under the radar, making small bets, and winning decent earnings from the casinos.
Haddish's character notices something special in him and wants him to join her 'stable' — where she can sponsor him for the big casino gambling competitions. Teller eventually agrees to take on La Linda's (Haddish) intriguing offer. Although Haddish is playing in a dramatic role, her character also offers moments of welcomed humor. From there, we travel down a foggy road full of twists and turns as more and more skeletons come falling out of the closest. This slow-burning picture is stamped with the seal of Schrader's cinematic trademark. The Card Counter will not be everyone's cup of tea. I know that Glynis and I were pretty split on this film. I found it much more engrossing than she did. So, fanatics of Schrader's filmography will gobble this movie up, while I think others will, at least, appreciate what he's doing here. The Card Counter might start out as a laid-back card movie, then it slowly begins to unravel into a psychological game of control. The Card Counter displays Isaac's gripping performance that is backed with a weighty storyline of morality.
The Card Counter is rated R (Restricted) Graphic Nudity |Brief Sexuality | Language | Some Disturbing Violence.
The Card Counter had its world premiere at the 78th Venice International Film Festival on September 2, 2021.
Directed by Paul Schrader
Starring Oscar Isaac, Tiffany Haddish, Tye Sheridan, and Willem Dafoe.
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