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'The Card Counter' review with Casey

A poster for the film "The Card Counter."

Oscar-nominated director and writer Paul Schrader (First Reformed, 2017) loves telling stories of misfortune that happen to specifically unglamorous people largely abandoned by the world. (Paul Schrader wrote the enduring and provocative screenplays for both Taxi Driver and The Last Temptation of Christ.) In The Card Counter, a modern-day tragedy of exile and redemption shows viewers that some people cannot avoid revenge forever.


Oscar Isaac (Star Wars: Episode IX - The Rise of Skywalker, 2019) plays a laconic man carrying the shame of military transgressions living behind the poker face mask of a lone gambler traveling to casinos and living in sparse motel rooms. But the violence of his past starts haunting him, causing uncomfortable shifts in his life. Filmed in a terse, gloomy, and austere style, The Card Counter is not what people would describe as uplifting or exciting. Even Tiffany Haddish (Like a Boss, 2020), a well-established comedic actress, is surprisingly restrained and sober in her performance.


This seriousness is so consistent, however, that the film feels stagnant in its tone. While watching this in a theater, I thought to myself, "When is this film going to pump up the volume?" and "When will the emotional tension start to increase?" The story does bring viewers to a unique crescendo by the end, but it feels oddly void of emotion. 


Paul Schrader is a wonderful screenwriter, and some of his dialogue in this film is interesting and believable. The monologues on the mathematics of gambling or the skill of card counting are somewhat engaging, but they are told with such repression they feel somewhat flat also. While The Card Counter might be an earnest example of harsh restitution, it doesn't have enough fervor or intensity to make it memorable. I love a large salad as much as the next person. But when the salad has no dressing, no bacon, and no croutons, how fulfilling can the salad really be? 


The Card Counter was officially released on September 10th, is playing in select theaters throughout northern Utah, and is available for rent through Amazon Prime.

Casey T. Allen is a native of Utah who graduated from Utah State University with a Bachelor's degree in English in 2007. He has worked in many capacities throughout USU campus and enjoys his time at UPR to continually exercise his writing.