By betting low and winning slowly, William Tell (Oscar Isaacs) is a gambler who is almost monastic in his approach. By choosing to never stay in hotel rooms and always covering every distraction with bedsheets, he is a man who has learnt to keep the world at bay. Or at least that’s what he thought until he met a young Cirk Baufort.
Angrily challenging him about his past, Cirk accuses William of being a military torturer. Similar to the one his suicidal father used to be, Cirk now seeks revenge upon their former commanding officer. However, William doesn’t want to be involved.
Instead, William offers to take Cirk on the road with him and show him a better way to deal with his past. Yet, in dramatically raising the stakes with another life to care for, can William maintain his own fragile recovery whilst helping Cirk address his?
… you never know where the story is going or what you’ll discover once you get there – and that’s its charm.
In a film that refreshingly doesn’t offer up its cards too easily, writer/ director Paul Schrader quickly injects you into William’s buttoned-down existence. Aided by another masterclass in restraint similar to 2014’s A Most Violent Year, Isaacs’s William Tell is more than a man with a target on his head. That is because when you start winning you draw attention and William doesn’t want that. Yet, alongside him and aching like an open wound that’s barely been patched up is Tye Sheridan’s Cirk. Louche and disconnected, his is a performance that is every bit as mysterious as Oscar Isaacs’s.dxcf
So, what’s the appeal of The Card Counter (and any other) Paul Schrader movie? In a word, quality. With both characters expertly constricted by a past that William would rather suffocate, you never know where the story is going or what you’ll discover once you get there – and that’s its charm.
Like Robert Levon Been’s wheezing soundtrack, The Card Counter isn’t a film you can afford to regret. As easily one of the most satisfying yet under-rated movies of recent times, you certainly owe it to yourself to hunt this movie down. Add to this a sublime performance by Tiffany Haddish as the pair’s matriarchal mother figure and you have a hand of gold, that you just can’t turn down.