This movie was really corny to say the least. It felt like a really "manly" Clint Eastwood fan tried to channel that inner coolness all over the script. The ham acting was very hard to ignore and story felt like trying to reach for too much. Like Last Starfighter reaching with arcade game to save the world from aliens except that was a kids movie that can be played off as just that to be fun. This doesn't have the same excuse as being a kids movie.
Rating: 0.5 out of 5 stars
So a gambler is approached by a kid at a security lecture who steps up and gives him his name and phone number with no explanation. Wow, Who would then call up a kid he doesn't know. Anyway, what follows is endless inane small talk, somnolent scenes in bars and at a motel swimming pool and in a moving car, (most powerful line used over and over is "I like her"), a ridiculous non-plot, unconvincing scenes sketchily depicting prison and torture (screams only, realistic depiction too much trouble?), weak voiceovers in a solemn tone of profundity, a squirm- in-your-seat romance with a black woman who arranges gambling buy-ins for him -- least sexy or romantic relationship in history of movies, no atmosphere, no suspense, no character. development, ridiculous attachment to this inane kid he hardly knows (audience apparently supposed to be awed by his yearning for "redemption" by giving kid $150K, etc), absolute vacuous self-indulgent storytelling, Oh and a ridiculous mumbled
"metaphysical" song sprinkled throughout. but biggest black hole of all? The so--called "critics" raving about how brilliant this tortuously boring deal is.
Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
A 2021 Venice Film Festival premiere written and directed by Paul Schrader, The Card Counter is a crime drama that tells the story of William Tell, a gambler, former military prison inmate and, as is revealed later, an interrogator at Abu Ghraib. We meet Tell, played by Oscar Isaac, as he recounts his time in prison. We don't know immediately why he was there, but we do learn that he became accustomed to, and even enjoyed, the routine: the same toilet, same sink, same mealtime. Day in, day out. This is also importantly where he learned to count cards. While on the casino circuit, Tell eventually befriends two people – La Linda (played by Tiffany Haddish) and Cirk with a "C", as he tells everyone upon introduction (played by Tye Sheridan) – who change the course of his journey post-prison.
To be honest, I wasn't excited about seeing this film. I thought I was in for another Molly's Game or Uncut Gems. The former was decent and entertaining enough, but the latter was abysmal. I still just do not understand the accolades that film received. Schrader even stoops to using the tired – and almost insulting – convention of showing numbers on the screen as Tell narrates a game of Black Jack.
But during the first hotel room scene, I realized that the tone of this film is so completely different. William Tell isn't just a strangely morose human being – he is a tortured man. A man with a deeper story.
We gather our beginning information about Tell through his voiceover narration. This same narrative continues in diary form throughout the film, a technique that hearkens back to Schrader's 2017 film First Reformed. Just as the priest painstakingly put every thought down on paper, so does Tell. It's worth noting the sound device that composer Robert Levon Been uses here and throughout the film – an eerie, repetitive almost-sigh. It's suggestive of sleep, suffocation, or both, and it's effectively unsettling.
The first hotel room scene uses this sound as Tell covers every piece of furniture with white sheets (that he notably takes out of an incredibly clean and organized suitcase) and ties them down with twine. Like the cards he counts, the sheets symbolize his need for order and mirror the starkness of the prison that he craves. But the sound layered on top of these preparations creates an uncertainty for us – is he going to kill himself? Someone else? As he is like a walking ghost already, he doesn't need to do the former. No, this is just what Tell needs – a world with definitive and easy answers, black and white – because the gray matter and messy halls of interrogation inside his head are too much to bear.
The set design also plays up the juxtaposition of order and chaos. Most scenes are highlighted by repetitive and orderly patterns – the casino hallways, carpets, gambling rooms are replete with artificial lights, a lot of which blink in time with the repetitive noises of slot machines that fill the void. The only exterior scenes of any length occur at a very bleak hotel pool, shot in such a long shot that all we see is concrete, and at a neon tree-lined park. Even Tell's appearance never really changes. He is always clean, impeccably dressed, hair perfectly coiffed. But it is in this repetition and cleanliness that Tell finds comfort – because his internal self is exactly the opposite. In fact, he tells Cirk in a pivotal scene that we go round and round until we "work it out".
When Tell meets Cirk at a police function, we learn the real truth about Tell's past and what he himself needs to "work out". He was a soldier trained by Major John Gordo (Willem Dafoe) to interrogate and subsequently torture prisoners at Abu Ghraib and the horrors he both witnessed and committed are the crux of his guilt. Aside from one scene in which Tell has a nightmare of the prison and all its ramifications, we are thankfully spared many of the visuals that another director may have added for shock value. It's an uncomfortable scene to be sure and because it is filmed with a remarkable fish-eye lens, we are thrown into the scene and feel viscerally the nightmare that Tell likely has had more than once. This one scene of physical and mental torture that we are privy to – with its blood, mangled bodies, pleading voices, crushingly loud heavy metal – is more than enough to bring us to a real empathy for Tell's moral plight.
From that point on, we are invested in Tell. We want him to be lifted of this heaviness because it truly is too much for one person to bear. And there are moments of hope. The romance that begins between Tell and La Linda is sweet, gentle, simple and underplayed. Tell keeps such a stoically grave look, but when he's with her, he looks as if he may break. She forgives him intuitively even though she doesn't know about his past. Tell's relationship with Cirk is a little more complicated because Cirk does understand what happened. His dad was at Abu Ghraib with Tell, has since killed himself, and Cirk wants the General to pay. In his honest and gentle way, Tell takes Cirk under his wing. Is this good deed driven by guilt or loneliness? Is it because Tell also wants Gordo to pay? Possibly. No matter the motive, Tell really sees Cirk's pain. After all, a good card reader can read people as well.
But as Tell also tells us, a card player can "tilt" (make a series of bad plays and decisions) and a torturing soldier can "force drift" (no longer seeing his captive as human, thus applying more and more pain). If we are to read into these idioms, we all have breaking point. We all deal with mistakes and the guilt associated therein. Tell isn't immune from this even in the end, even as we think he may overcome Cirk's ultimate betrayal and forgive himself.
As a pseudo partner to First Reformed, The Card Counter deftly addresses moral responsibility and the demons that haunt us. The brutal human rights violations that occurred at Abu Ghraib during the Iraq War may seem a distant memory for some viewers, but this film brings those atrocities back into focus in a story that on the surface is about a wayward gambler. With the context of the war at the helm, Tell's quirks make sense. But it is, admittedly, a slow burn. There are lingering slow camera movements and incredibly long shots that create a pacing style that some may not have the patience to watch. It has a tightly written script, but the dialogue comes slowly, punctuated by many shots of a brooding Tell. He sips whiskey as he writes, he sips whiskey as he plays cards, he sips whiskey at bars. And he takes his time with his sip. So I understand the reluctance to keep with it. But the characters, especially Isaac's Tell, are worth watching and appreciating.
Rating: 0.5 out of 5 stars
This was the worst movie I've seen in a long time. It's got more poker than blackjack (so the title is irrelevant) and nothing happens.
Literally nothing happens in the whole movie.
And the ending is completely out of nowhere.
Rating: 3 out of 5 stars
Like always with Shrader's work it somehow has to do with PTSD and war, and undoubtedly it is the strongest part at stake here with great originals visuals. The rest is pretty conventional and lack a strong direction because in its state the movie seems dated. Too flat visually it is saved by the strong performance of Isaac and an above average script.
Rating: 1 out of 5 stars
Ludicrous, poorly cast, ugly and very deceptively marketing.
Rating: 2 out of 5 stars
Watched it in the theaters. Was interested in seeing it. Pretty boring story and I felt when it was over I wished I hadn't seen it. Just a waste of time.
Rating: 3 out of 5 stars
The scene set ups at times felt forced or exposed: back and forth MCUs during conversations, felt like the lines weren't in conversation but each shot during the actor's MCU or CU. At times IT felt like a student "continuity" edit assignment. Acting was good, pace was slow/deliberate. Ending was not satisfying. There were some questionable "real world" issues (like, how long does it take to drive from Panama City FLA to Virginia?). And there's a difference between a military prison for crimes committed in military and a state or federal prison for criminal offenses.
Rating: 0.5 out of 5 stars
too slow of a movie
Rating: 1.5 out of 5 stars
Oscar Issac is excellent, and that's the only thing good about the movie. The co-acting, the story, the cinematography, the score... all bad. And FFS, you get a chance to use Willem Dafoe in a movie and you give him 2 minutes of screen time max? Pathetic.