Cinema enthusiasts with a taste for gambling or casino-related movies should put The Card Counter on their list. Paul Schrader directed this drama-thriller using his trademark cinematic intensity. Oscar Issac seems perfect for the role of the mysterious poker player as a continuation of a series of solitary, past-plagued men that he brought to the screen recently. So, let’s dig into the action of The Card Counter and review the movie while we try to place it among some of the best poker, roulette, and blackjack-themed movies in history.
William Tell’s Profile
Going for William Tell as the main character’s name, often just Will Tell, is clearly an allusion to the classic Swiss folklore tale about the crossbow marksman, as well as a reference to every poker player’s Achilles’ heel.
Will keeps a strict diary in a notebook where he writes only in perfect cursive script. However, he doesn’t start adding to the diary until the motel room he’s in is completely white after covering everything with sheets. The diary is used by Schrader as a means to keep the audience on the hook. He then reels viewers in through the thicket of William Tell’s mind, a concept that is even more thrilling than the scene-to-scene evolution of the movie.
The diary is used as a tool to peak into The Card Counter’s brain and tell the story of a very disciplined man. The same idea can be drawn from the line “Red and black roulette is the only smart bet. Your odds of winning are almost 50%. You win, you walk away. You lose, you walk away”.
So, why does he play poker? The most straightforward answer would be “to keep himself together”. We get a glance into William’s time spent as a US Army torturer in Abu Gharib prison as well as his own prison sentence where he taught himself how to count cards.
Poker, Blackjack, Revenge, and Romance
Early in the picture, William meets La Linda, a gambling agent played by Tiffany Haddish. Observing his talents, La Linda wants him to join the big leagues but that’s not among Tell’s intentions. His objective is to do just well enough to beat the house but never clean it out in order not to draw attention.
However, the chemistry between La Linda and William rapidly jumps from flirtatious to sizzling and it’s not long until she learns about William’s past. This scene helps us slide toward the main conflict of the picture.
The centerpiece: Major John Gordo. William’s superior at Abu Gharib taught him everything about interrogation and torture. Curiously enough, when Will got sentenced to 10 years in prison, Maj. Gordo managed to get away with it. The two meet at a casino one night and later on, Tell meets a college dropout by the name of Cirk.
William learns that Cirk’s father was also trained by Gordo and is asked to assist in the latter’s plot to kill the major. However, Will is determined to distance himself from the past and doesn’t want to take part in Cirk’s plan. Instead, he tries to persuade him to drop the entire thing and lets the youngster join him on his casino tour. While Will tries to make enough on the poker and blackjack table to help Cirk back into school, a happy ending is not exactly Schrader’s way of doing things. As the action unveils, a violent ending seems more and more probable, no matter how hard the hero trie to avoid it.
A Superb Role for Issac
The Card Counter provides a superb role for Issac. He brings his soulful magnetism to the profile of a man who plans every move with extreme precision. Most of the time dressed in a shirt, tie, and leather jacket, William tries desperately to put order to his tumultuous past.
His effort to help young Cirk points toward how bad William wants to make things right and make amends for his past actions. However, the world that William wants to make right looks awfully drab in The Card Counter. To further highlight this, the scenes of suburban wastelands where time seems to stand still paint the picture of an America that Will gave so much to serve and protect.
The only time the landscape seems less of a forgotten wasteland is when Will accepts La Linda’s invitation to a night out at the Missouri Botanical Garden (something like in The Lost City). This shows the romantic side of Schrader in an attempt to break the grim and grey landscape depicted until that point. It also directs towards the idea that love offers, at the same time, the possibility of redemption and risk.
To sum up, this film definitely feels like it has what it takes to become a favorite for anyone who loves crime, drama-filled films