That so much money can be made from poker and casinos must be part of appeal of these serious poker players. Stony faced and bedecked with shades so as not to give anything away was a similar look that sex tape supremo Kim KarKrashian attempted when she took part in a celebrity poker game losing catastrophically due to checking her cards whilst wearing mirrored shades. There’s none of that idiocy here with the knowingly named Will Tell (Oscar Isaac) in a difference class altogether as the Card Counter of the title. Having spent eight years in prison due to his own crimes as a US army torturer in Abu Ghraib has taught himself to count cards at blackjack cards, a technique our own Editor attempted but quickly ran into difficulties as soon as it got into double figures (‘You’re fired!’ – Ed).
Earning modest sums in order not to draw attention to himself as he makes a living travelling from city to city. It’s LaLinda (Tiffany Haddish in a rare straight role), a poker tour rep who bankrolls players and who collars him to work for her with a frisson of a love story soon developing . But the duo soon become a trio when Will is accosted by Tye Sheridan’s Cirk (‘Kirk pronounced with a C’, he tells everyone though why no one tells him he sounds like a cock pronounced with a k is anyone’s guess) at a hotel hosting a poorly attended ‘Global Security Conference’. Cirk and Will are connected by Cirk’s father due to Will having worked at Abu Ghraib with both under the callous instruction of Colonel John Gordo (Willem Dafoe) and taught in the ways of torture by him. But whilst Will ended up in prison and Cirk’s father, racked with guilt about his own actions, ended up committing suicide whilst Gordo walked away from it all without penalty or remorse. It’s little surprise that Cirk wants revenge.
The Card Counter is typically Paul Schrader territory with Will as the anti hero trying to do good as he takes Cirk on a redemptive road trip in an effort to divert him from his murderous plot. In that regard Will is also looking to redeem himself too after his work in the internment camp. ‘Nothing can justify what we did!’ he says – a phrase which must reverberate in the waking nightmares of the TV reality show producer that foisted Gemma Collins on the British public. Schrader wrote Taxi Driver for Scorsese and the shadow of Travis Bickle lingers here with the explanatory voiceover, the daily update of a main characters journal and the inevitable violence that this is building towards although here, unlike Taxi Driver, it’s all off screen.
Schrader’s work has been polarizing as seen with his 2017 film ‘First Reformed’ but all his themes are here and his channelling of French director Robert Bresson and some stylish touches including a fish eye lens shot travelling through the corridors of horror at Abu Ghraib as well as a remarkable end shot. Oscar Isaac engages in something of a slow burn performance away from the blockbuster extravagance of the recent Star Wars trilogy. The Car Counter belies its title as its about anything but that but is as measured and precise and Schrader continues his return to form .
Here’s the Card Counter trailer…….