Tuesday, January 11, 2022

The Card Counter

Writer/director Paul Schrader examines the worlds of gambling and torture, which turn out to not be as mutually exclusive as you may think. In terms of gambling, The Card Counter doesn't offer any new information or insight we haven't seen presented before by movies like Rounders and 21.

What makes the movie unique is William Tell's (Oscar Isaac) past as a disgraced MP who served 1o years in federal prison for torture in Abu Ghraib. His past causes him to befriend a troubled young man (Tye Sheridan), hoping to dissuade him from taking vengeance out on a man (Willem Dafoe) both characters have reason to hate. The relationship between the pair is a peculiar one as Will takes accepts a job on the poker tour to help his new friend who wants a completely different kind of assistance from him.

Isaac is the standout in the film, even if his character's level-headedness often lends itself to monotone. We don't see much of his time in Abu Ghraib, but what we do get certainly helps sell his need for a more peaceful existence. There's a responsibility he feels towards Cirk (Sheridan) than I'm not sure the film ever really sells, and his choice to bring him on the road as a kind of long-term tourist is a bit odd, but it is necessary for where the card counter's journey will eventually lead him. You can certainly understand Will attempting to find some form of redemption by changing the dark path Cirk seems intent on following, but we also see very little of Will actively trying to change his mind outside of one important scene late in the film making me wonder just how invested he is in the enterprise.

Tiffany Haddish has a good turn here as a poker scout and potential love interest for our protagonist, even if he seems to prefer his solitude (with the possible exception of his new friend). The film offers some intriguing aspects and flourishes, such as Will's unusual hotel routine which will be brought back for the film's climax. Dominated by Isaac's performance, The Card Counter turns out to be better in pieces than whole, but still manages, through its leading man, to lead us on an intriguing journey.

Watch the trailer

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