The Card Counter; Grade: B
The Card Counter tells a story about a card player William Tell (Oscar Isaac), whom plays time to time and wins a reasonable amount of money before stopping completely for the night. William Tell gets an offer from a backer La Linda (Tiffany Haddish) to come compete state to state, hoping to win the World Series of Poker, however William isn't interested as he likes to remain a low profile while playing. However William attends a random security seminar, as William gets acquainted with Cirk (Tye Sheridan). The man speaking at the seminar, happens to be the same person which led Cirk's father drug addiction which led his passing afterwards, as Cirk is hoping to strike revenge on this man. So now William Tell has agreed to compete in card games for high money, hoping to help Cirk with his college debt as he hopes to give Cirk a fresh new start, fleeing him away from wanting revenge on this man.
The Cinematography t'was solid, it's a got an elegant visual vibe to it that compliments the style of a Casino setting. One of the best sequences regarding visual terms so happens to be ones that flashbacks William Tells' past life, as the fish bowl camera lens visuals worked extremely well, bringing an unsettling presence to the table. The Score was solid as well, enjoyed some of the soundtrack selections especially in the end.
The cast all in all was pretty good as a whole. Oscar Isaac delivers a great performance as Will, delivering crucial tense sequences and also perfectly portraying a personality of a Poker/Black Jack player persona. Tiffany Haddish known for comedic roles, actually was a bit of a surprise as she had a pretty good performance as this supporting character, she complimented the swag persona of this backer very nicely. Tye Sheridan was solid in this film as Cirk, also enjoyed Willem Dafoe as Gordo however I wish there was more of Gordo in this story.
Paul Schrader's First Reformed not only was one of my favorite films of 2018, it so happens to be one of my favorite films of all time. So given that, I had a fair amount of anticipation and excitement for his follow up film.
The main issue I have with The Card Counter and this is going to be strange... It doesn't feel entirely original, as it mimics the likes of First Reformed and Taxi Driver which Paul Schrader also written that film. Paul brings back the daily journaling he had with First Reformed onto our main character with this film, you can also debate it puts in the subtle romance factor as well from that film in here too. You can also sense the characteristics of the main character mimics the likes of Taxi Driver as well.
After watching The Card Counter, my first initial reaction was positive yet not sure what to make of it. Though mimics the likes of past Schrader projects, the narrative of a card player is honestly secondary to what the story is about, as it shifts entirely into a different direction what we're used to seeing in films about card players. Having this film sit for a good couple days... I now throughly understand what exactly was Schrader trying to say with this film, as I'm yet impressed with his follow up.
Our main character William Hill is quiet yet a disturbed being, whom casually lives life reasonably as he doesn't over step his boundaries. The reason being is when one that tends to go after a great amount of money, now all attention is on him. As when all attention is on you... You not only create greater enemies, but now you have to be cautious with any little move you make. That's why when people question William as to why he's not the top winners of Black Jack or Poker, it's because William prefers to live reasonably, when living reasonably not much responsibility is at hand and you are easily left alone.
With Cirk, William feels not only sorry for him but also understands what exactly is he going through, as he used to work with the same man that put his own father with a drug problem leading to his death. With Cirk, William is now given a purpose to actually go out of his way and making a difference, so he can help revive Cirk's life in which is heading towards a wrong direction of debt and especially violence. The reason why William is not on board with Cirk's revenge plan is because there is an understanding in which the man Cirk is trying to seek revenge on, should never be attempted. The man has a high honorary role in the military, as when William hears Cirk's plans on how to assassinate him... William knows this young kid is going to die instantly, as the man will see it coming from miles away.
The finale speaks levels of volumes on why exactly doesn't more people tend to want to do more than just live reasonably. Because once you want to do more and get involved with actual serious circumstances, when shit hits the fan... Your mind suddenly loses all sense of reasoning with the horrors of reality around you, as your mind pleads you're going have to do unspeakable things in order to receive justice you rightfully seek. Knowing the man that put Cirk's father in harms way and also put William in harms way mentally, you may not approve of William’s actions however when one stops living reasonably... Holding one back to what they think is making a valid difference, is going to be an immense struggle, it felt perfectly timed with how human beings of today are struggling keeping their composure with all that's going on.
Though this film isn't necessarily focused on card games, when the film is centered around the card games, there is still some intriguing interest. I actually learned about the advantages within certain cards in Black Jack, that would determine whether to stay or Hit Me. I can't figure out the game of Poker to save my own life, however the sequences are so cool and the mentality of the players... They must've trained extremely hard to allow themselves to have the ability to secure emptiness within their own minds. I also enjoyed some of dark humor here and there, some good comedic moments.
I feel The Card Counter is gonna age quite well, it may not be loved at first, but when given time... It's another well written and well directed film by Mr. Schrader.
Overall, The Card Counter t'was dope. I recommend checking this one out, def a film you'd have to put in your thinking cap for this one. -Mitch Smietana