The Card Counter – Dark and Depressing – Film Review

The Card Counter (2021) - IMDb

Director: Paul Schrader

Writer: Paul Schrader

Starring: Oscar Isaac, Tiffany Haddish, Tye Sheridan, and Willem Dafoe

Rating: ★★★½

The Card Counter proudly states at the beginning that this is presented by Martin Scorsese, reuniting him with Taxi Driver and Bringing out the Dead writer Paul Schrader, who wrote and directed this one. A haunting and often intense story about the limits of what someone can do to someone, morality and guilt.

William ‘Tell’ Tillich (Oscar Isaac) learnt to count cards in prison, a place he never thought he would thrive in. Since being released he goes from casino to casino winning just enough to make the casino notice him, but still get away with it. He’s method, living in hotel rooms as he travels from city to city. Cirk (Tye Sheridan) spots William at one of the casinos, and knowing his history asks him to help with getting revenge on Major John Gordo (Willem Dafoe), who is responsible for William’s stretch in prison. William doesn’t want Cirk to go down a bad path, so joins the professional poker circuit to win enough money to help Cirk get started on a better life.

From the beginning of the film, with a slow fade-in on a prison cafeteria and Oscar Isaac’s voice over, you know this is going to be a dark film. There’s a sinister tone just underneath everything you’re watching. For the longest time this feels like it’s just going to be about gambling and then William’s past is revealed and there’s some twisted moments. It’s hard to talk about without spoiling anything, and this is something that shouldn’t be spoilt.

Oscar Isaac gives a phenomenal performance. Completely unrecognisable from his recent roles in Star Wars and Dune. Here he’s quiet, intense and can be quite scary. Everything about him is calm and collected, as he plays each hand of cards, and covers every object in each hotel room with cloth to keep it sanitised. There’s one moment around half way where he tells Cirk about his past, and Isaac delivers the dialogue perfectly. You feel his pain and it feels real and at the same time you are conflicted with his character.

It’s Paul Schrader doing what he does best, a character study into someone who is neither a hero or a villain. You really get under the skin of William and by the end you can’t tell if he’s a good person or not, either way he’s looking out for Cirk, who he feels responsible for and is the real victim of the story. His life isn’t off to the best of starts, with an abusive dad who has killed himself and a mum who abandoned him. Willaim tries to help, but Cirk isn’t completely willing to accept it.

The Card Counter is an interesting film. It’s not as good as Taxi Driver, which is something that everything Paul Schrader has been involved with since has suffered from. Once you write one of the best films of all time about a twisted character, it’s hard to live up to it. The Card Counter is a good film, but it suffers from some bad pacing. It still leaves you with a dark feeling that sets it apart from most other films. After watching it, you’ll be running it around in your head over and over again, picking it apart.

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About ashleymanningwriter

Young Adult Fiction writer. Horror and fantasy blended together.
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