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The Card Counter - Movie Review

The Card Counter

Despite the film’s strong foundation and rather rich themes, Paul Schrader’s newest project, The Card Counter, is unsuccessful in attempts to achieve a tense and mysterious tone, and ultimately ends up as a dull, messy drama full of awkward dialogue and performances.

"is unsuccessful in attempts to achieve a tense and mysterious tone, and ultimately ends up as a dull, messy drama"

In the opening minutes of the film, William Tell (Oscar Isaac), recounts to us how during his eight-year stint in a military prison, he adjusted surprising well to the routine and mostly uneventful life behind bars. It was while incarcerated that he learned to count cards. Despite acquiring this skill, his philosophy is somewhat unique: bet small – win small – stay anonymous. He travels around the country to different casinos with this strict philosophy. It’s all very simple…until William is confronted by the young and misguided Cirk (Tye Sheridan) at a security seminar being held by Major John Gordo (Willem Defoe) at a casino in Atlantic City. Cirk reveals here that he not only knows about William’s unfortunate and torturous past involvement in the Abu Ghraib torture and prisoner abuse, but he also confesses his personal vendetta against John Gordo (who we find out was William’s superior officer at Abu Ghraib prison). After hearing Cirk’s illogical plan, William commits himself to setting Cirk on a better path. So, he takes up an offer from La Linda (Tiffany Haddish) – an old acquaintance – to be staked in poker tournaments and plans to gift Cirk with enough money to clear his debts and go back to school. But of course, nothing goes exactly as planned…The Card Counter

Now, after reading the summary, you are probably thinking to yourself, “Hmm, that actually seems like an interesting story. What’s the problem?” I agree with you…it is an interesting story. But unfortunately, the issues lie within the execution. There is no doubting the immense talent and range that the entire cast possesses, but their performances are heavily hindered by the awkward dialogue and direction. There are many times when scenes feel drawn out by the slow pace and the relationships between characters come across as very forced (especially the romance between William and La Linda). Isaac’s character is a rather interesting man with a sympathetic story, but the reserved and odd nature of his character does not come off so much mysterious as it does dry.

The film does have some interesting things to say about morality and violence, and the audience easily sympathizes with William’s quiet existence and attempts at personal redemption. However, those things do not save the picture entirely. Overall, the film does not seem to be on a clear path. It’s not really about cards, and that’s fine. The real story is, of course, more gripping, but one cannot help but question all of the time in the film that is devoted to William’s detailed explanations of counting cards, poker, and the lifestyle that it entails. There are moments of intensity when William breaks his stoic demeanor and it gives the audience the feeling of scared excitement. But one only wishes that there was a bit more of that. For me, The Card Counter was a bust! (See what I did there.)

The Card Counter is now playing in theaters.

2/5 stars

Film Details

The Card Counter

MPAA Rating: Rated R for some disturbing violence, graphic nudity, language and brief sexuality.
111 mins
: Paul Schrader
Paul Schrader
Oscar Isaac; Tiffany Haddish; Tye Sheridan
: Drama | Thriller
He's Playing the Hand He Was Dealt.
Memorable Movie Quote:
Theatrical Distributor:
Focus Features
Official Site:
Release Date:
September 10, 2021
DVD/Blu-ray Release Date:

Synopsis: 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 decisions.


The Card Counter


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