May 25, 2024

THE CARD COUNTER (2021) – One of the best dramas of the year

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Rating: ⭐⭐⭐ 1/2

Paul Schrader is best known for his collaboration with Martin Scorsese including the classic Taxi Driver and Raging Bull. More recently he wrote and directed the drama First Reformed starring Ethan Hawke as a Protestant minister struggling with his faith. In The Card Counter, Paul Schrader once again rewards us with a thought provoking, quietly powerful piece of work.

The Card Counter tells the story of William Tell, a ex-military interrogator who served time in prison and learned how to “count cards” in the process. A card counter by definition is someone who is able to keep a running count of high and low valued cards dealt in the game of Blackjack. Using this skill the card counter is able to determine who has the advantage in the next hand. Using his skills, William is able to make a decent living off gambling at the casinos. He keeps a low profile and restrain from being greedy, happy with small earnings. William’s life changes when he meets a young man Cirk, whose background and intentions are someone inter connected with William’s own dark past.

The Card Counter benefits from a tight and powerful script and even more, by the staller performances of its main cast led by Oscar Isaac. Oscar Isaac should be familiar to many movie goers as he was in a number of major movies including the recent Star Wars episodes as the dashing resistance fighter pilot Poe, and more recently, in Dune as the heavily bearded Duke Leto. In Card Counter, he is able to finally show us what an accomplished actor he can be as he handles his complex character in a subtly powerful performance. William is a man tortured by his dark past but hides this with a calm exterior. He is aptly supported by the young and talented Tye Sheridan as Cirk. You may recognise Tye as the young man from Ready Player One. Here is gets to play someone who is more real. Actress Tiffany Haddish provide a bit of mystery and romantic interest as La Linda, a sort of gambling financier who partners with William to help him win big through various series of card game tournaments across the gambling strip. Finally there is Willem Dafoe whose brief role is nevertheless still effective as his character is pivotal to the entire story.

The Card Counter has an underlying violent story, and theme. But, don’t expect fast action or gratuitous violence between gangsters and gamblers, as this is not that type of movie. Paul Schrader has crafted an original story that feel multi-layered. It is a story of redemption, an anti-war story, a love story, a story about forgiveness and forgiving. He has a very involving and detailed style of direction making you invested in the characters while also being able to experience what they are going through as the story progresses. All this told in an unassuming manner that would at the end haunt you with its tragic message long after the credits have rolled.

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