Redemption is the long game in Paul Schrader’s THE CARD COUNTER. Told with Schrader’s trademark cinematic intensity, the revenge thriller tells the story of an ex-military interrogator turned gambler haunted by the ghosts of his past.
It is interesting timing from my perspective for Paul Schrader to release a new movie, as our latest podcast episode covered ‘Taxi Driver’, the Scorsese film that he wrote and that brought him mainstream success. As discussed on that episode, his record post-Raging Bull is sketchy to say the least, but after ‘First Reformed’ and now ‘The Card Counter’, there is clear evidence that in later life Schrader has absolutely returned to form.
‘The Card Counter’ is a movie that explores themes typical of Schrader’s work, in that it’s about a wounded man trying to reckon with the world he now finds himself in. He is William Tell, a former soldier who spent time in prison for his involvement in the Abu Ghraib torture and prisoner abuse scandal. Now released, he keeps himself to himself, staying in quiet motels away from the casinos where he counts cards to make a living. Oscar Isaac stars as Tell and he has the right intensity to play the part of a man who needs to maintain control because he’s frightened of what might happen if he lets it go. It starts off about a card counter, but the movie grows into something with greater depth as we learn about William’s past and other characters come into his orbit.
One of those characters is Cirk (Tye Sheridan), a young man whose father had a similar experience to William. He’s full of resentment and anger, and wants revenge, and he wants William to help him achieve that, but William sees another path, however taking it may put him at risk of losing the control he’s fought so hard to maintain. The third member of this odd little group that forms is La Linda (Tiffany Haddish), a representative of a group of investors who back gamblers in return for a share of any winnings they make. I won’t delve too deeply into how ‘The Card Counter’ plays out as to do so would be to spoil the enjoyment of the direction in which the film unfolds.
This is a really enjoyable film that sits right up my street. It takes place mostly at night, in brightly lit casinos and dark streets, with a score that veers between electric synth music and crooning lyrics from Robert Levon Been (of Black Rebel Motorcycle Club fame), and it features Isaac delivering another memorable performance. As we head into awards season I suspect some films will go under the radar and this may well be one of them, but I’d highly recommend taking 2 hours out of your time to give it a watch.
Directed By: Paul Schrader
Starring: Oscar Isaac, Tye Sheridan, Tiffany Haddish and Willem Dafoe