January 17, 2022
Box Office $2.66 million;
$22.98 DVD, $34.98 Blu-ray;
Rated ‘R’ for some disturbing violence, graphic nudity, language and brief sexuality.
Stars Oscar Isaac, Tifany Haddish, Tye Sheridan, Willem Dafoe.
Writer-director Paul Schrader’s searing The Card Counter is the latest entry into his canon of films that, as he describes it on the Blu-ray’s bonus featuertte, involves a loner in a room just sitting there waiting for something to happen.
In this case it’s Oscar Isaac as a man who goes by the name William Tell, a former soldier who was involved with the Abu Ghraib torture scandal and went to prison, where learned how to play cards. Upon his release, he travels to different casinos to eke out a living as a gambler.
The set-up is a bit like if the film were Rounders told from the point of view of the Edward Norton character, if he also had PTSD and wasn’t a manipulative jerk.
Tell runs across the son (Tye Sheridan) of another soldier whose life was destroyed by the scandal, and vows revenge against a commanding officer (Willem Dafoe) who was not punished at all.
The kid asks Tell to help him murder the commander, but Tell instead convinces him to tag along on the road to learn about the key to winning various card games. This is accompanied by voiceovers from Isaac explaining the rules and quirks of some of the games for those in the audience who don’t already know.
In their travels, Tell encounters La Linda (Tiffany Haddish), who makes a living staking gamblers in high-money games and then collecting a piece of the action. She recruits Tell to her stable to play in various poker tournaments.
All the while, Tell continues to be haunted by his past, which only adds to his dismay as he tries to dissuade the kid from his desire for vengeance.
Isaac gives an engaging performance in what is a bit of an acting showcase, while Haddish plays against type in a departure from her typical comedic roles.
Schrader also keeps the film visually interesting with some good camerawork in the casinos, particularly one tracking shot over a massive room of poker tables.
The only extra on the Blu-ray is a five-minute behind-the-scenes featurette.