The Card Counter starring Oscar Isaac, Tiffany Haddish, Tye Sheridan, and William Dafoe shows the post-war life of a military person (William Tell ) as a professional gambler. The film was written and directed by Paul Shrader.
*This review spoils the story of The Card Counter*
The Card Counter starts the best way it can. In the first minutes, we learn about Tell, what he does, and how he became a card counter. The gambling scenes are simply magnificent. Thanks to the ideal performance of Oscar Isaac, we fall in love with how he gambles.
The Card Counter is one of those films that reminds us why picking an actor or actress with the correct appearance is essential. Throughout the film, I couldn’t find another actor who could affect me like Isaac’s face does. Not only Isaac but Haddish and Sheridan as well.
Most of the film is shot in casinos, and lousy sound editing makes it hard to understand what people say. There were many scenes where the volume was as high as possible, and still, I couldn’t figure out what they were saying. A good sound editor is necessary for movies with too much noise, and The Card Counter lacks that.
Paul Shrader is mainly known for his Taxi Driver screenplay. He directed his debut film in 2017 called First Reformed, which was one the best that year. In The Card Counter, we can feel that Shrader has found his unique taste of direction. The way he directs and shoots the gambling scenes is top-notch. It captures the tension, stress and, skills of Tell on gambling.
My main problem with The Card Counter is the backstory of William Tell. Throughout the film, we see he served under the command of Major John Gordo (Dafoe) in Abu Ghraib prison. If you don’t know, Abu Ghraib prison is infamous for its torture methods. They torture prisoners physically, mentally, and sexually. It doesn’t make sense to come back from there without any mental issues.
Now, Tell looks too calm for someone who tortured people in prison. We do see him read about meditation in prison, but I don’t think anybody can heal from that kind of mental abuse situation all by himself.
La Linda and Cirk suffer from the same problem as Tell. The backstory is unnecessarily complex and doesn’t intertwine with the theme of the film. This paradoxical theme of too harsh and too fun doesn’t work correctly in the movie because of the backstories.
Apart from that, that backstory makes things complex without needing to. Adding a war backstory to a character doesn’t necessarily mean it will make it more critical or dark. In the case of Card Counter, it just made it look absurd. I believe Shrader could write a much better backstory that would serve the theme of the film properly.
If we look away from flashbacks, the gambling and casino scenes are simply miraculous. Not only do they capture the drama needed for the film, but they are accurate as well. As a person who doesn’t understand much of gambling and card-playing, I understood what was happening in the scene. And I’m sure those who play regularly will enjoy watching every gambling moment of this film.
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The Card Counter is an excellent gambling film with a poor ex-military background story. Shrader’s direction is top-notch, and the screenplay has a solid structure, but it lacks the right motivation and level. Oscar Isaac once again enchanted the film with his persona and acting, which is the best part of the movie. Apart from the backstory and sound editing problems, The Card Counter is an OK gambling movie that might even motivate you to play some cards afterward.