The Card Counter Review

It's not surprising, The Card Counter is film with its playing cards kept close at hand. What is this slow-burn study of a soldier-turned-gambler really about? As a film by renowned director-writer Paul Schrader, it unsurprisingly centers around a lonely male who tries to understand their existence from a bare room. Oscar Isaac's mysterious character here is part of an established tradition that dates back to the troubled Pastor Ernst Toller in 2017's First Reformed and all the way all the way back Travis Bickle in the Schrader-written Taxi Driver. On first glance, the film appears like a fresh entry in the genre that is often overlooked, gambling dramas. There are some echoes like Robert Altman's California Split here, with Isaac dressed wearing a jacket that was ripped from the back of Steve McQueen in The Cincinnati Kid. But the card counter's plot proves to be an amazing sleight of hand. The closer it is to its conclusion, the more clear it becomes that this film is not about gambling on black and more about the moral black heart of the American war machine.


Isaac is riveted in the role of William Tell, a former soldier who was educated to conduct "advanced interrogation" (aka torture). We see him with life that seems to be a long way off when the film moves ahead, we learn that he was sentenced to jail to pose for a picture while humiliating a prisoner at Guantanamo like prison, and emerged on as being a professional poker player. However, we soon discover that he was an individual who is afflicted with regret and a burning desire to get revenge. The culprit was an unnamed private contractor John Gordo (Willem Dafoe) who set him on the path to violence, however he was not punished and caused Tell to be devastated. Then, one day Tell is introduced to a student at a local college named Cirk Baufort which is who is played by the actor from Ready Player One, Tye Sheridan. Baufort has a quest to capture Gordo and asks for assistance from Tell. In the meantime, Tell attempts to put the kid in the right direction road, inviting him to travel.

Reaffirms Schrader as an author of tales that involve morally ambiguous men who have secret lives that are ready to explode.

The film follows a tense story that is laced with stomach-churning flashbacks of Tell's military years. Schrader director Schrader has a zeal similar as Card Counter executive producer Martin Scorsese with a plethora of evocative images, like Tell covers all the appliances in his motel rooms with papers (a oddity that's never explained). He also expertly layers in subtext: one of Tell's poker rivals is a stars-and-stripes-wearing patriot, whose chants of, "USA! USA!" echo frequently in the background of scenes, highlighting the story as a critique of American vulgarity.

The film is not without its imperfections than the nearly flawless First Reformed. Tiffany Haddish has a somewhat small role in Tell's love interest, and the couple's romance never sparking. However, as a frank investigation into the extent to which we can rid ourselves of past sins and confirms Schrader as a master of tales that feature morally uncertain men with a shady, ready-to-explode inner life. It was in 2002 that Spike Lee released 25th Hour and has since been recognized for being one of the most important films that triggered the September 11 attacks, yet it's at the core a movie about something completely different. It's possible that The Card Counter might just be an Iraq War-inspired versiondepicting the guilt and the ugliness of that war, as well as the events that led to it.


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