The Card Counter

The Card Counter ★★★★

Ooof. Just a white-knuckle ride of the irreparable psyche, the PTSD of America’s collective (sub)conscience, its unreachable catharsis and guilt-ridden, self-destructive acceptance. Unspeakably horrific yet somehow not entirely hopeless. 

Wow. It’s glorious to see Schrader this inspired and locked in, this late into his life and career. The Card Counter doesn’t quite coalesce into the literally breathless conclusion of First Reformed, but perhaps better yet, holds you in a barely-breathing state for its entirety. It’s a drum-tight psychological drama that plays like a tense thriller, grabbing you by the collar and not letting go for nearly two hours. It’s been a while since I’ve come across a film this volatile, this threatening. 

The way Schrader shoots the States as a lonely, barren, debt-ridden purgatory of prisons, casinos, motels and parking lots is more haunting or frightening than any post-apocalyptic zombie movie (and his recent clinical, anti-cinema aesthetic is a match made in heaven for the unromanticized, melancholic environs of betting halls). The way Isaac’s idiosyncratically steely performance plays like a poker face itself makes you wonder if there’s any other actor on the planet who could have portrayed the monklike Tell this mercurially, while carefully never blocking you off from his internal psychology either. The way Haddish isn’t asked of much in her role on paper yet is so poised and intuitive as to surprisingly fit into Schrader’s world against type and give him more than he ever could have imagined, I’d bet. 

The hottest movie couple of the year. Probably the most genuine, chemistry-filled romance, too. Schrader might just be the darkest romantic there is. You can’t beat the house (AKA find salvation), but you might be able to make a connection if you’re willing.

Epic WordArt opening credits and back tattoo.

The Wrestler of the mind, rather than the body. The inverse First Reformed.

I just can’t get over how engrossing and stirring this is — it has no right being so, given its form and function.

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