The Card Counter

In DVD/Blu-ray by Alex Moss Editor

Ever since he announced himself to Hollywood with his script for the blood-spattered nihilism that is Taxi Driver Paul Schrader has never deviated from his path. A writing and directing career spanning more than 40 years Schrader’s work has often fluctuated in quality but never altered course from the dark depths of man that he loves to explore.

His latest, The Card Counter, is no exception. William Tell (Oscar Isaac) is a card shark drifting from casino to casino making enough money to be comfortable but intentionally never enough to become a problem for the gambling establishment. When he walks into a military security convention at a casino he meets Cirk (Tye Sheridan), the son of someone from William’s past. Taking the young man under his wing the two team up with La Linda (Tiffany Haddish) a gambling backer who convinces William to play for her on the poker circuit.

If the premise all sounds very Rain Man it is anything but. The Card Counter is more Drive meets Rounders. William is that typical Schrader protagonist, a man seemingly void of emotion on the outside until you realise how much he’s bottling up inside just to survive.

It’s shot with Schrader’s penchant for coldness. Everything feels grey, right down to William managing to be one of the few characters in film to always match at least one item of clothing perfectly to the colour of his hair. While this coldness worked for Schrader’s last film, the utterly riveting First Reformed, here it feels a little alienating. Especially as there is so much warmth amongst the slightly odd family dynamic that develops at the film’s core.

Where Schrader’s visuals keep us at arm’s length and his script keeps us intentionally in the dark, his cast brings huge warmth. Haddish is stunning as La Linda, warm, bubbly, a comforting blanket in this otherwise calculated world. Sheridan is solid as Cirk capturing the attitude of drifting through life but deep down always having a plan. But the film is owned by Isaac. As William he manages to be both slick and achingly damaged at the same time. There is a sense of irony felt in his voice-over of how he’s able to read people and yet continuously misunderstands their desires and needs.

A flawed but always interesting drama, The Card Counter is typical Schrader and another example of Oscar Isaac excellence.