Director: Paul Schrader
Screenplay: Paul Schrader
Starring: Oscar Isaac, Tiffany Haddish, Tye Sheridan, Willem Dafoe
Country: USA, UK, China, Sweden
Running Time: 111 min
Year: 2021

Written and directed by the writer of Taxi Driver (1976), American Gigolo (1980), Raging Bull (1980), and First Reformed (2017), The Card Counter promised the tension of casino tables to offer a cover of a much deeper character story. By all accounts, it delivers on both of these elements, and then some.

With Oscar Isaac in the lead role as the card counter himself, William Tell, and some good turns from Willem Dafoe and Tye Sheridan, you come for the clever antics in the gambling rooms, but stay to see if Tell will ultimately achieve redemption from his dark past.

There’s plenty to enjoy about The Card Counter from Paul Schrader and executive producer Martin Scorsese, meriting its high critical scores.

In this piece, we’ll be staying as spoiler-free as possible so that you can go and enjoy the film!

In so many of the great movies to feature gambling, like Rounders, The Hangover, or Rain Man, the premise of gambling is to beat the casino, win all the cash possible, and run away with it to a better life. Playing at the biggest and brightest casinos, often in the US, is romanticised and glamorised ten-fold in these tales.

Still, in modern times, you don’t need to travel to these lavish locations to play classic card games. Most people get that authentic, high-class experience at a live casino in the UK. Featuring Live Hippodrome Roulette, Blackjack, and even the likes of Cash or Crash, anyone can take on the house from their sofa at home.

So, it makes sense that the starry-eyed angle from yesteryear is all but shrugged aside for The Card Counter. Here, we have a player who’s just as intelligent at reading the table as he is keeping low-key. Tell doesn’t go to the big casinos of Vegas, nor does he place huge bets. It’s all about using his skill to get enough and fly under the radar.

As soon as this is showcased, you get a good grip of the character in play – this measured and thoughtful man who won’t be drawn in by emotions. Primarily, this has been learned in a military prison in the US, with the circumstances that led him to incarceration being what powers his self-hate, discipline, and eventual path in this story.

As with any drama centred on gambling, it’s not the gambling that’s the real story. It can be impactful in the plot, but most of the time, its deployment is to showcase characters under pressure. The Card Counter is much more about Tell working his path to redemption and whether absolution can be achieved after all he’s done.

As such, it makes sense that the critical score on RT reads 87 per cent and Certified Fresh. Similarly, on Metacritic, it gets 78 out of 100 from critics. Audiences and users weren’t quite as fond of the flick though. Despite being short by modern standards, some cite its ponderous pace as a negative, leaving it with 6.6 out of 10.0 among Metacritic users.

If you’re fine with a somewhat slower pace, provided that the payoffs are worth the wait, enjoy a bit of slick card battling on the felt, and want to see Isaac put in a strong performance, The Card Counter should join your watch list.

Where to watch The Card Counter
The Card Counter
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