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Tuesday, December 21, 2021

The Card Counter 2021 * * * 1/2 Stars


Paul Schrader has been writing and directing films for almost 50 years. He specializes in the irony, the trenchancy, and the moral ambiguity of his brute personas. With 2021's The Card Counter, Paul's exploratory stature ventures to the dark side. And saying Schrader is dark is like saying apples are roundish. It's just true. 

The Card Counter is a drama about playing cards and a whole lot more. It's a numbing, almost glacial viewing experience. It's like Rounders on downers with torture flashbacks. It's 2007's Lucky You where family ties are at a distance. It's Molly's Game but someone actually gets killed or threatened. 

"Counter" is about a gambler named William Tell (named after a folk hero, I looked it up). Tell is played by Oscar Isaac and he's got well, quirks. Tell goes from city to city and stays at hotels where he covers all the furniture with sheets (pictures get taken down too). Tell also drinks a different drink wherever he travels and mostly wins at the table. 

Tell is well, the quasi-antihero, a dude who's thorough but has an off compass. Isaac plays him quietly like a laconic force of nature. Oscar Isaac is the type of actor that you are drawn to and scared of at the same time. It's like Michael Corleone and George Clooney swapped bodies and then well, swapped back again. 

Anatomies begot, Paul Schrader creates a glitzy, sort of sterile character study around Isaac's Tell. And he puts actors like Tiffany Haddish and the boyish Ty Sheridan in Tell's almost sedulous pathway. At age 75, Schrader hasn't lost anything. Accompanied by Robert Levon Been's anesthetized musical score and cinematography that puts the racked extravagance of a casino right in your backyard, The Card Counter gives Schrader the gumption to provide more layers than your average wagered vehicle. You just knew the "odds" would be good. 

Written by Jesse Burleson

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