The Card Counter

The Card Counter ★★★★★

"Is there a limit to punishment?"
"The body remembers."

By my calculations this Paul's 7th attempt writing and 4th attempt directing his Bressonian treatise on lonely, regretful, violent American men confined to the existential crisis of their austere rooms. That's either going to appeal to you or it's not, personally I go into each one of these ready to see how this man (both the character and Schrader) has changed as the years have gone by and this didn't disappoint. It occupies an almost perfect intersection of the mournful yearning of a wandering criminal in Light Sleeper (the neon surface NY nightlife of that film however pointedly replaced by the more mundane surroundings of anonymous casino floors, prisons, and motel rooms) and the routine terror of being personally complicit in American systemic violence in First Reformed; the relationship between corporatized spirituality and capitalism's culpability in our current climate crisis replaced with the abuse, torture, and rape perpetuated by the US at Abu Ghraib and other "war on terror" black sites. (That this was released on the 20th anniversary of 9/11 is kind of insane. "U-S-A!" King Paul.)

This is probably the most ascetic, least dramatic depiction of poker ever put on screen and after a while, you start to realize that's the point; the calculated routine and clean, anonymous locations are a form of guilty, self-imposed isolation (“you live like this?”) and a tolerable way of passing the time when you're trying to escape a history of "noise." A simple, elegantly-composed image of a motel room desk covered in clean sheets serving as visual a counterpoint to the nightmarish, distorted wide-angle tracking flashbacks of shit, sweat, oil, and blood. The movie moves through its "revenge" beats with the same kind of ugly, stripped-down ennui that Oscar Isaac is perfect for. there are no attempts at justification or catharsis, only the feelings of weight (moral and otherwise) and the melancholy realization that settings things right is not really possible and you probably deserve to be punished anyway.

[Spoiler warning] Felt myself ascending out of the theater when the last shot hit and I could tell it was the last shot and it was the fucking Pickpocket ending again, done in the same romantic fake freeze frame credits style he did in Light Sleeper and I noticed in the credits that the Light Sleeper score composer Michael Been’s son Robert did the gloomy, breathy score for the movie—another intentional counterpoint to that films more 80s love ballad pop-rock sounds.

full discussion on my podcast SLEAZOIDS.

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