REVIEW: The Card Counter


Watching this movie actually made me think of something that never in my entire life would I ever have thought would come to mind: I need to learn how to play poker.

Veteran screenwriter Paul Schrader comes out of his 3-year hiatus (after his 2018 drama “First Reformed”) to give us a taste of the past with his latest entry in the crime genre; “The Card Counter.” This movie was written and directed by Schrader and produced by Martin Scorsese (talk about an old-school collab, eh?).

The film stars Oscar Isaac, Tiffany Haddish, Tye Sheridan and Willem Dafoe and gives us a deep dive into the troubled world of ex-military interrogator turned full-time gambler, William Tell (played by Isaac). The story revolves around Tell and his desperate desire to get away from his tumultuous past, turning to gambling for a living, (or rather, an obsessive coping mechanism). But when a young man named Cirk (Sheridan) comes into his life and reignites the burning rage of his past trauma, he soon discovers that some things cannot change no matter how hard you try.

To begin, the cast is fantastic and is easily the one aspect that keeps this movie’s head above water. Isaac delivers some of the best work he’s ever given us. Where the film could have been generic in terms of execution of its characters, Schrader manages to make the main character interesting by showing what a man with a caliginous past will try to do mentally to fix himself, rather than what he’ll do physically (like many films in the past have done, i.e. the John Wick trilogy, ‘Taken’ etc.).

Sheridan also works pretty well in the movie, serving as a bitter reminder of the past for Isaac’s character. There is an incredible scene between the two where Isaac sits Sheridan’s character down and gives him a little bit of an intervention of sorts. Never once do they talk about what Isaac is trying to convey in the scene. But everyone (including Sheridan) understands his message. It’s the visual storytelling with only a bit of verbal thrown in that hit me pretty hard and it, by far, is the scene that stole the whole show for me.

The film is also shot great, too. There were so many scenes that were visually appealing to the eye, and it felt a lot like “Taxi Driver.” Every single shot is handled with absolute style; beautiful looking airshots, wide shots of other poker players in the room (visually highlighting the notion that everyone in that room has addictions they’re grappling with), and imagery that was borderline breathtaking. It’s good to see Schrader flex his directing muscles more and more, as he has been most heavily known for his writing.

With this, you would think I would say the film is near perfect, right? Well, here’s the thing … while all of the praises I have offered up may be true, the plot and some of the themes were all too familiar. I saw multiple parallels drawn from other crime films like “Taxi Driver” or action movies like “John Wick” where you have a gruff man who’s been dealt a bad hand by one individual or a group of people.

Also, the first half, at times, overextends its welcome. If the editing team had maybe shaved a couple of scenes down in the first act, then it might not have felt like it was moving at a snail’s pace.

Overall, the movie is not great, and in the category of originality it doesn’t quite cut it. Nevertheless, the camera work, fantastic imagery, and the cast as the saving grace, found me quite enjoying ‘The Card Counter’. It’s now playing in select theatres and if you’re in the mood for an old-school crime character study, give it a try!

If you are expecting an action movie as IMDb has labeled it, then you will be severely disappointed.

Jury declares: B