Film Review – The Card Counter (2021)

Title – The Card Counter (2021) 

Director – Paul Schrader (Dog Eat Dog

Cast – Oscar Isaac, Tiffany Haddish, Tye Sheridan, Willem Dafoe 

Plot – Recently released from prison, ex-military interrogator turned gambler William Tell (Isaac) is haunted by his past but presented a way forward by his new friendship with the younger Cirk (Sheridan) and potential love interest/work associate La Linda (Haddish). 

“You count cards right?”

Review by Eddie on 12/01/2022

With 2017’s well-regarded and return to form effort First Reformed still fresh in many viewers memories, hopes were high for Hollywood provocateur and explorer of America’s underbelly Paul Schrader to once more hit the high’s he has reached in a career that includes work on the likes of Raging Bull and Taxi Driver but sadly despite lead actor Oscar Isaac’s best efforts, Schrader’s latest intense effort is a mid-tier affair that never incites or excites like it may well have done. 

Viewers would be right heading into this tale of Isaac’s ex-military turned gambler William Tell thinking they are in for a gambling focused ride as the trailers would’ve had us all believe but while gambling certainly plays a key part in this dialogue heavy drama, Schrader has other ideas in play here as he explores issues at hand in the country of his residence with damning and confronting views on the darker side of the land of the free. 

From delving into the treatment of so-called terrorists at the hands of the American regime, the plight of the lower class and the simmering tension that lies at the heart of many citizens pushed to their limits by a way of life that no longer seems weighted for all, The Card Counter feels like a product ripped straight out of the 70’s era of Scorsese, Lumet and De Palma (divey casinos and score included) with Isaac’s cold but impressive turn as the tormented Tell creating one of Schrader’s more memorable lead characters. 

Whilst no where near the incendiary work Schrader managed to create with Travis Bickle, Jake La Motta or even Ethan Hawkes struggling Reverend Ernest Toller, Tell allows Isaac too do his best work since his hot streak a few years ago that lead to award worthy turns in the likes of Inside Llewyn Davis, Ex Machina and A Most Violent Year and after a few years of lean work in less than satisfactory projects, it’s great to see the talented actor get a chance to shine in a lead role with Tell a complex and intriguing figure in an otherwise so-so affair. 

Unfortunately unable to be supported by The Card Counter’s slow moving and forgettable central plot drivers and some lackluster work from co-stars Tiffany Haddish (in a serious role that begs to question her ability to make the jump from comedy) and the misguided work of Tye Sheridan as Tell’s new friend with a mission Cirk, it’s a shame Isaac’s work wasn’t supported by a more well-rounded film or memorable narrative that at moments shows what could’ve been but is never able to work to become another Schrader inspired classic. 

Final Say – 

An old school styled dramatic thriller that is unable to maximize the work of its leading man to create something special, The Card Counter may be better than most of Schrader’s directional outings but still feels like a big missed opportunity to create something special.  

3 wrapped pieces of furniture out of 5 

5 responses to “Film Review – The Card Counter (2021)

  1. The Card Counter feels like a product ripped straight out of the 70’s era of Scorsese, Lumet and De Palma (divey casinos and score included)…” — At any point, did you wish Schrader had leaned more into the aesthetics of the 70s without explicitly revealing when the movie is set? More yellows and browns in art direction, obligatory cadillac, and flip phones?

    “…and some lackluster work from co-stars Tiffany Haddish (in a serious role that begs to question her ability to make the jump from comedy)” — Based solely on the trailer, I’m going to blame the skepticism on her acting range on the hair, makeup, and wardrobe selections. She looked out of place, like she wandered in from a different soundstage and decided to stay. Did her outfits match her character’s function or personality quirks?

    • Would’ve been great of this film was set in the era that inspired it I think!

      I really don’t know what happened with Haddish here. She seemed to really struggle with her role and maybe found it hard bringing Paul’s words to life.

  2. I feel the disappointment of your review. You know maybe I’m a lot more enthusiastic. I’m really seduced by Haddish part, actress I didn’t know about the former humoristic pedigree, I found her at the right distance with the main character, the impressive Isaac. Their alchemy creates a very strange link between hard drama and spleen romance, a twilight trouble I accept to bet on.

      • I add the music to the good points, forgot to write about. It completes the atmosphere of darkness surrounding William Tell.
        You’re not totally convinced I understand, but I know you find some satisfactions in Isaac’s play.
        Anyway, thanks for your nice review again Eddie.

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