September 02, 2021
Oscar Isaac is a blank-eyed poker player with a past in Schrader’s latest gathering of lost, tormented souls
The Card Counter review – Paul Schrader’s slow-burn revenge noir ticks all his boxes
Paul Schrader makes films about lost souls in torment and unachievable goals, the sort of bleak existential purgatories that speak to our own uglier moments. Ahead of the Venice press screening of his latest production, an impromptu security cordon makes more than 100 guests late, after which they are only allowed into the cinema in small dribs and drabs - a tense, shuffling progress that extends throughout the film’s opening half-hour. The critics are in uproar; the ushers get lairy. Wherever he is, I imagine that Schrader himself would approve of the show.
On screen, The Card Counter provides another stylish, slow-burning account of Schrader’s lonesome samurai, a figure who can crop up in all walks of life: as a taxi driver, an escort, a drug dealer, a priest. On this occasion he’s embodied by a blank-eyed Oscar Isaac, who wears his scuffed leather jacket like a bulletproof vest. William Tell (formerly Tillich) is a veteran of Abu Ghraib and served eight years for his crimes. He now earns a living at the card tables and roulette wheels of middle America. The film has him driving the strip malls at night or prowling the stygian bowels of interchangeable casinos, with their patterned carpets and heavy black drapes. These joints have lights blazing everywhere and yet always appear cloaked in shadow. The gamblers, one worries, bring the darkness in with them.
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