Oscar Isaac transforms a somber gambler into an unlikely hero in the compelling revenge drama ‘The Card Counter.’

Veteran Filmmaker Paul Schrader delivers another story ignited by guilt in his crime drama ‘The Card Counter.’

Oscar Isaac transforms a somber gambler into an unlikely hero in Paul Schrader’s ‘The Card Counter’ from Focus Features.

The greatest compliment a filmmaker receives from moviegoers is anticipation. When simply the arrival of a new movie ignites edge-of-your-seat excitement from cinema audiences, a director rises to the level of ‘Master.’ This doesn’t mean that every new film is as good as the last one. It simply means that audiences need to see every new movie. That’s true for Paul Schrader, the writer, and director of The Card Counter. His previous work is that good.

Schrader leads an impressive acting ensemble, including Oscar Isaac, Tiffany Haddish, Tye Sheridan, and Willem Dafoe in the gambling drama and revenge thriller The Card Counter. It’s not Schrader’s best movie or my personal favorite. Like every Schrader movie going back to 1978’s crime drama Blue Collar, the stylish cinematography and clever scriptwriting are too great to miss. The Card Counter, opening September 10 from Focus Features, is adult, deliberate, solemn storytelling that stands apart from the many horror movies and superhero blockbusters in movie theaters today. Too moody for its good at times, The Card Counter rises on the shoulders of Isaac and Haddish as unlikely business partners.

William Tell (Isaac) is a successful gambler partly for staying smalltime. His modest earnings never attract the attention of casino security despite his talents for counting cards. Tell’s profile jumps a notch after meeting La Linda (Haddish), a gambling financier interested in adding Tell as one of her company’s professional poker players. La Linda funds Tell’s rise in the World Series of Poker despite knowing little about his military past. Tell’s role as an American interrogator at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq bubbles to the surface after befriending Cirk (Sheridan), a young man plotting to kill the military colonel (Willem Dafoe) he blames for the untimely death of his father. Cirk wants Tell, who served alongside the colonel, to help him in the crime. 

Oscar Isaac, recognizable for his work in the Star Wars franchise, strikes a somber pose as a former soldier struggling to put his actions at Abu Ghraib behind him for good. Isaac simmers throughout The Card Counter, maintaining a mood as dark as his slicked-back hair and wardrobe. Isaac makes Tell uncomfortably tense, but you care what happens to him.

Tiffany Haddish, a top-notch jokester in the popular comedies Girls Trip and Night School, taps her dramatic skills as La Linda, the unlikely gambling collaborator Tell desperately needs. 

Tye Sheridan and Willem Dafoe deliver vital support roles and keep the storytelling from collapsing under the heavy emotional weight. 

Veteran filmmaker Paul Schrader, one of Hollywood’s ‘Raging Bulls,’ stands behind the camera delivering the pitch-perfect dialogue and brilliant scenes audiences and actors have come to expect from him. Schrader is also cinema’s leading expert on characters and stories driven by guilt. Working for the third time with cameraman Alexander Dynan (First Reformed, Dog Eat Dog), Schrader brings beautiful gloom to the casino rooms and low-cost motel rooms where Tell works and lives. Dynan’s camerawork sparks to life during dizzy flashbacks at Abu Ghraib prison. During the rest of the movie, Dynan and Schrader maintain a deliberate pace and steady hand, leading the characters and story to somewhat sad but satisfying conclusions. The Card Counter is a movie willing to pause and linger while its characters contemplate their next moves. You see this artistic stance from the movie’s start to a lingering closing image of two hands reaching to touch across a glass partition.

DirectorPaul Schrader

Production Company: Focus Features

Distributor: Focus Features 

Unrated

Release Date: September 10, 2021

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