The Card Counter Film Review @ Brisbane International Film Festival 2021

  • Written by 
  • Wednesday, 03 November 2021 16:24
'The Card Counter' 'The Card Counter'

‘The Card Counter’ is not about gambling. It tells a story within that world and understands it very well, but it is not a film about gambling.

Oscar Isaac plays William Tell, a man who discovered he could count cards in prison so now he travels across the country cashing modest wins and moving onto the next casino. What is his end game and what is in his past inform everything, and are gradually revealed. Oscar here confidently strides into middle age roles, prematurely perhaps at 42, playing Williams as a very withdrawn man but still waters run deep.

In a long line of ‘man in a room’ stories that writer/director Paul Schrader has told, William hides behind a routine that is severely upset in the form of a woman who the protagonist believes is too good for him and a youth that needs rescue from themselves. Here though, the self-loathing of the lead character is justified, and he proves more likeable, maintaining an inner rage but rarely indulging it.

A movie like this relies on the performances. We have got to care about Oscar as he gradually peels back the layers, or smile when Tiffany Haddish enters the room, or feel sympathy for Tye Sheridan when he seems so lost.

Paul creates a sense of unease. Who of these characters can be trusted to do the right thing, and can they trust each other? Observing each and guessing their next move is part of the fun.

The storyteller, at 75, returns to similar themes and patterns, but by not changing with the times, Paul remains a rebel. Vietnam and Watergate have been replaced by the War on Terror and the Trump era; his unapologetic criticism of the American Dream remains just as relevant if not even more painful.

That is not to say there is not some maturity in this latest offering, an early scene shows Oscar Isaac in a sensible mid-sized sedan pulling up to a low-cost motel where the pool is deserted, and it plays as a commentary on the opening of ‘American Gigolo’. In that 1980s classic, a perfectly-dressed Richard Gere drove an expensive Mercedes Benz convertible and pulled up to a condominium complex where ripped young bodies dove into the pool. On the soundtrack in the earlier film, Blondie’s iconic ‘Call Me’ played, now there is nothing but silence. A filmmaker who has always been brave and thoughtful perhaps showing a little less bravado and a little more thought in his eighth decade.

‘The Card Counter’ is thoughtful and mournful, and in the end more than just a little bit hopeful. Coming from Paul Schrader, that says a lot.



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