Wednesday, September 15, 2021
The Card Counter is a Film to See
Paul Schrader’s, “The Card Counter,” is a raw, yet strangely quiet, movie about a former soldier, psychologically damaged by his time in Iraq. His guilt and fears, which he keeps hidden behind a stony stare and immobile face, are not the result of battle, but of the things he did while a guard in Abu Ghraib prison.
The soft spoken, stone-faced character, who now makes a living as a professional gambler, is played by actor Oscar Isaac, and he is unnerving to watch.
There is a great deal of stillness in “The Card Counter,” but a tremendous amount of inner turmoil, which can set a viewer’s nerves on edge waiting for the explosion.
Schrader, who wrote and directed this film, is the guy who wrote the script for the 1976 Martin Scorsese film, “Taxi Driver.” Here, Schrader uses some of the same techniques in “The Card Counter,” including an alienated protagonist who tells us about himself in voice-over narration.
Unlike Robert De Niro’s edgy taxi driver who observes the world around him and comments on it, Isaac’s gambler is quietly involved in his world of intense card games. He sticks to low stakes games in casinos around the country which, in this film, appear slick, serious, empty and devoid of any kind of fun.
This new Schrader character, like the old one, is compelled to be alone, but longs to connect with other people – and with the viewers of the film. He even tells us how he changed his name from William Tillich to William Tell. Is the name Schrader’s way of letting us know William wants to “tell” us what’s eating at him? Is it a play on the poker term meaning body language that tips other players to the cards one is holding. Is the name a reference to the legend of the archer who shot an apple off his son’s head? In the movie, William forms a dangerous friendship with a volatile young fellow with an ax to grind against the people who plunged the country into the war in Iraq.
The film poses lots of questions. It answers many of them, but leaves quite a few mysteries. (Like, what was up with those bed sheets? Sensory deprivation?)