The Card Counter – Film Review
by Fran Winston
Directed by: Paul Schrader
Starring: Oscar Isaac, Tiffany Haddish, Tye Sheridan, Willem Dafoe
In cinemas November 5th
If you’re not familiar with the phrase card counter it refers to a gambler who can literally count cards – they have a points system to figure out how many high cards and low cards are left in a deck thereby allowing them to calculate their odds of winning. In this offering, Issac plays William Tell the card counter of the title. He is a gambler who taught himself how to count cards during an eight-year stint in a military prison. Upon release, he spends his days gambling in different casinos, deliberately never winning enough to draw attention to himself.
When he is approached by a woman called La Linda (Hadish) who runs a stable of gamblers he initially rejects her offer to join. However, he subsequently encounters a young man Cirk (Sheridan) who was the son of one of his military colleagues, who wants to seek revenge on the former officer he blames for his father’s death, He attempts to rope Will into his plans but instead finds himself on the road with him. Wanting to help Cirk, Tell agrees to join the stable to build up a nest egg for the young man. However, thoughts of revenge are not easily forgotten and despite his best efforts things still spin out of control.
Issac gives a powerful performance here as the deeply damaged Tell. His performance is incredibly nuanced, and he is hypnotic in his scenes. He is let down by Hadish who, while likeable enough, really doesn’t have the acting chops for a movie like this. Dafoe is also wasted and plays his character as if he was playing panto and I couldn’t figure out if this was the direction or his artistic choice. Either way, his screen time is quite small, so it isn’t too distracting.
Schrader’s direction manages to make even drawn-out card games feel dynamic. Much like the Queen’s Gambit managed to make chess look sexy this really does shoot the gambling scenes incredibly well. It really makes poker and blackjack look appealing.
That aside this is a pretty standard revenge flick elevated by Issac’s performance. He really saves this movie at the points where it could lag. It is by no means a classic but it is engaging enough to keep you invested till the end and will leave you processing its underlying messages after the credits roll.
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