The Card Counter

The Card Counter ★★★★

"Any man can tilt."

I'm all in. Sure, it's extremely similar to what Schrader has done before (and at times can be a little too on the nose), but it still works. Oscar Isaac, like Ethan Hawke, may just be giving a career-best performance as one of Schrader's tormented characters, sorrowfully wandering in self-imposed isolation. He wears a poker face and gets through life by numbly sticking to his daily game routine, but slowly reveals his feelings and past through diary entries and voice over. Coupled with flashbacks and eventual conversations, we get to learn what haunts him so, and it's quite understandable considering he was involved in torturing war crime detainees. It eventually becomes a road trip movie of a sort when Isaac's William Tell meets Tye Sheridan's Cirk and attempts to make amends for his actions (and more so his enjoyment of them, I think) by quieting the young man's thirst for vengeance. Of course, this is a Schrader movie, so there are political and moral questions to wrestle with, and if you've seen enough of them you can predict the harrowing ending to come, though that doesn't make it any less impactful.

I really do love almost everything about this. It's about as straightforward as a Paul Schrader movie gets. The poker setting works wonderfully as both a metaphor for the dramatically raising stakes of this story and a rich playground for Schrader's visual style. The aesthetic throughout is aces, aided by an outstanding moody soundtrack and score. These things and an expertly managed pacing had me sucked in deeply to this noir-like, glossy, dark adult drama.

Of all its great qualities, though, perhaps the most surprising thing of all is that "The Card Counter" has done what I believed to be truly impossible - make me not only just tolerate Tiffany Haddish but actually appreciate her contribution. For that alone, I get to walk away a winner.

2021 Awards Cycle Ranked

Ranked: Paul Schrader

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