Very few directors pull audiences to their movies with their name over the actors they cast. But without a doubt Martin Scorcese is one of those directors. Fans are drawn to his films, and without even considering who the cast is. And while that may be the draw for some, The Card Counter actually was a movie I was drawn to because of the leading cast of Oscar Isaac and Tiffany Haddish – which together seems like an odd pairing.
The Card Counter follows William Tell, a former soldier and ex-con turned professional gambler on a path for his personal redemption. Along the way, he meets Curt, a young man who wants to take him back down a darker path. But instead Will tries to help Curt so he doesn’t go down the dark road he has planned.
Before the movie even starts, even from the credits – the pace of the movie is set. With opening credits just focusing on a green gaming table fabric with slow-moving words it invokes opening credits of movies of the past. And while you would hope the movie would pick up from there – it really doesn’t. It even bookends the slower-paced movie with an even slower ending scene that is really awkward.
The story overall doesn’t grab the audience, and unless you are really into Poker and Black Jack, and know all of the ins and outs – the gaming portions may drag even longer for you. And on the outside, Will’s story seems cut and dry but the movie flashes back to the crimes he committed while he was enlisted. But each and every flashback is shot through a fish-eye type lens which gives the scenes of brutality almost a weird comical effect. The characters become cartoonish even as true brutality is happening on the screen.
One of the biggest draws to the movie for us was Oscar Isaac, and while his performance is great, there are parts of the role where his talent is underserved. He can switch from being shut down and reserved to being scary and brutal in one scene to the next. Much like William Tell, the name he chose the character went by, Isaac’s character has to do something extreme to pay for his former crimes.
On the other side of the coin is Tiffany Haddish. While I normally love her in roles, her performance in the film is horrible, flat and not engaging. You don’t feel connected with the character, or that she did at all. I’m not sure if it was just how it was written, but the character is flat and almost pointless overall.
So was Scorcese’s gamble on The Card Counter worth it? Honestly, not really. While I’m sure there are fans of his work that will dissect every element and find a much deeper meaning and connection to the film, most won’t. The casual movie fan will not find the film entertaining but may find it hard to stay awake through the film. If you’re interested in professional card playing or movies that will engage you – this is not the film for you.
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About THE CARD COUNTER
Redemption is the long game in Paul Schrader’s THE CARD COUNTER. Told with Schrader’s trademark cinematic intensity, the revenge thriller tells the story of an ex-military interrogator turned gambler haunted by the ghosts of his past decisions, and features riveting performances from stars Oscar Isaac, Tiffany Haddish, Tye Sheridan and Willem Dafoe.