The Card Counter Dependably Not for Everyone

Filmmaker Paul Schrader is renown for taking us to the dingiest of places and introducing us to the gloomiest of people, and these are good reasons to watch the movies in the first place.

Hopefully, we don’t want to be the imploding taxi driver, raging middleweight boxer, or guilt-ridden Calvinist priest, but it is surely an intriguing escape to vicariously walk in the shoes of Schrader’s pitiable characters. If anything, they are all seeking salvation.

Because it’s a Paul Schrader film, they likely won’t find it.

I was thoroughly captivated by The Card Counter’s gradual unveiling of its two male leads – one running away from the past, the other face planting right into it. The runner is William Tell, played by Oscar Isaac in a mechanical, chiseled, and unblinking performance that would never be acknowledged nor rewarded by the Oscars, and I mean that as a compliment.

Although he knows the fundamentals of counting cards (impossible to not think of Rain Man) and gambles his way through seedy casino dives on the east coast, this movie is less about poker and more about seeking redemption from an unforgivable past involving insurmountable torture. When William runs into Cirk (Tye Sheridan), a young man with a plan for revenge on a military figure who ruined his father’s life, he is given an opportunity to be a savior, and as we all (should) know, playing God doesn’t end well.

I don’t want to spoil any further plot lines because Schrader masterfully unfolds his characters’ motives one conversation at a time. The chemistry between these two men is cold and uncomfortable, but because of the codependency they so desperately need from each other, there are surprises at each turn. No, the ending wasn’t satisfying whatsoever, but with a setup this grim, I didn’t expect it would fulfill. (And, I tend to feel the same way about most of Paul Schrader’s conclusions.)

I get the question all the time from my friends, mom, and wife: “Why would you want to watch such a dark movie?”

My answer: As repelling and grim a setting in The Card Counter – including characters beyond despicable – I can only feel grateful and entertained to be in the safety of my local movie theater to experience such a time and a place and not actually have to be there.

It’s the perfect opportunity for empathy.

That is why I go to the movies in the first place.

The Card Counter (2021) **** out of *****

18 thoughts on “The Card Counter Dependably Not for Everyone

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    1. I honestly had no idea where it was going and loved every passing minute of it! I didn’t want it to end, even though I knew I would hate the ending. I totally recommend it for a “dark” escape! Have you or Bailey seen Mississippi Grind?

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I haven’t but I have to ask him…I just gravitate toward dark movies. I’ll check these out.

        If you ever want an offbeat dark film…check out The Dark Backward…dark, funny, and uncomfortable.

        Oh he filmed a short film with a Hallmark actor directing and another Hallmark actor acting…so he is getting known anyway.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Added The Dark Backward to my Watchlist! Looks “effed up!” Perfect October fare. I won’t be seeing as many horror flicks as last year, but I’m definitely looking forward to all-new titles that I haven’t seen before this time…

          Ooo! We love the Hallmark Channel, if that’s what you’re referring to. Corny, over-conservative, but super good entertainment, especially during the holidays. In all actuality, I like the optimism they convey. We need that sometimes…

          Liked by 1 person

          1. Yes I would like to see some scary ones this year also.

            Yes that is the Hallmark I’m talking about…where B actors go to die lol. I’m just glad he is making connections with real actors.

            Liked by 1 person

            1. I love the letterboxd app, which keeps track of everything you’ve seen, lists, reviews, etc. You’d be surprised how many actors go in and out of the Hallmark world. I knew a workout trainer who landed a role in a Hallmark movie, and now he’s auditioning for movies in LA! Yah never know, right?!

              Yeah, I normally watch half horror films I’ve seen/half some that are new, but I’m going all new this year!

              Best to you, Max. Have a great week this week!

              Liked by 1 person

            2. Yep you never know! I always like a good horror movie….the endings usually suck though.

              Have a great one!

              Liked by 1 person

  1. Did you see Ridley Scott’s The Counselor from, like 2014? I get vibes of that movie from this, wonder if it’s anywhere near as pointless in its brutality. Or is The Card Counter more psychological than visceral?

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      1. It’s annoying! I’m sure they have their reasons, but it’s frustrating having to wait so much longer than you guys. Not immoral enough yet to use any illegal streaming sites, and prefer the big cinema screen anyway. We did get Many Saints of Newark earlier, though! Good flick.

        I just reviewed American Gigolo myself earlier this week, and it’s a brilliant piece of artistry. Insatiably smart. First Reformed is him perfectly bringing together everything he’s ever done over a four decade (or so) long career and crafting it in one film. Agree, one of his best.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Really digging your site! You have impeccable taste! Looking forward to “Many Saints…” Thank you for your thoughts. I’ll get over to the UK one of these days. My #1 on the bucket list…

          Liked by 1 person

          1. Thank you! Means a lot. I’ve always said there’s no one right opinion, but there’s definitely one right taste. 😉

            I’m hoping to do a review for Many Saints of Tuesday – a slow start, but some brilliant writing and a beautifully crafted character arc. Very satisfying.

            I can’t wait to get out the UK right now, but it’s a great place to visit. London at night is still as good as the very first time you see it. And you should see our trains! Shockingly efficient. Try em out if you make it over here! 😀

            Liked by 1 person

  2. “I get the question all the time from my friends, mom, and wife: “Why would you want to watch such a dark movie?”

    My answer: As repelling and grim a setting in The Card Counter – including characters beyond despicable – I can only feel grateful and entertained to be in the safety of my local movie theater to experience such a time and a place and not actually have to be there.

    It’s the perfect opportunity for empathy.

    That is why I go to the movies in the first place.”

    This is me.

    John
    “The Quick Flick Critic”
    https://thequickflickcritic.blogspot.com/

    Liked by 1 person

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