This film was previously reviewed in September 2021 as part of our coverage for Venice Film Festival.

The Card Counter marks a highly anticipated return for Paul Schrader, after his career-best First Reformed. He’s paired with another acting heavyweight in Oscar Isaac to explore the gambling world (one of Schrader’s passions) and the fallout from the U.S.’s use of extreme torture (presumably not).

Bill (Isaac) is a tormented man in the mould of a classic Schrader protagonist: solemn, sober, intense, and wracked by an almost spiritual guilt. He’s not exactly a barrel of laughs, but Isaac’s measured performance is impossible to take your eyes off. When you learn just what secrets he has buried in his past, it’s even harder to guess what he might do next.

Isaac is the all-encompassing black hole at the heart of this film, and Cirk (Tye Sheridan) and La Linda (Tiffany Haddish) are under-served as his support. There is a gentle chemistry between Isaac and Haddish, but little else, and Sheridan’s stumbles feel more down to the script than anything else. His character barges clumsily into Bill’s path, talking up grand schemes of revenge, before fading into the background as an unwitting sidekick for Bill’s white knight. Indeed, one late scene between them feels so unearned it borders on being a plot hole.

If Schrader’s script disappoints, thankfully his direction is much better. With Alexander Dynan’s cinematography he captures the oppressive, stale air of both prisons and casinos, places to get trapped and gamble away your life. They also create some exhilarating sequences of torture, shot in a kind of warped, nicotine-stained panorama, that make a fist of capturing such a hellish space.

With The Card Counter, Schrader returns to old archetypes and styles, but with less success. Isaac is captivating as he walks a line of methodical madness, but the rest of the film is too clumsy to match its early promise.

RATING: 3/5


INFORMATION

CAST: Oscar Isaac, Tye Sheridan, Tiffany Haddish, Willem Dafoe

DIRECTOR: Paul Schrader

WRITER: Paul Schrader

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.