The Card Counter (2021): Movie Review

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The Card Counter (2021) follows in the footsteps of a long list of card-counting casino movies, such as Rain Man (1988), Rounders (1998), and 21 (2012). If you’re yet to watch the movie, it is a tale of redemption and tells the gripping story of an ex-military interrogator (played by Oscar Isaac) turned professional gambler struggling to accept his past decisions.

A Win for Paul Schrader

The revenge thriller features writer-director Paul Schrader’s trademark intensity, and his fans are sure to spot echoes of his screenplay Taxi Driver (1976) throughout the movie. Arguably it isn’t the best of Schrader’s back catalog to date, but it proves he’s far from ready for retirement and continues to be a master of his craft. There is no question the film is directed with quiet confidence, offering evocative imagery that’s equal in quality to executive producer Martin Scorses’s cinematic masterpieces. For instance, movie fans are sure to appreciate the vivid visuals of Tell covering each motel room in cloth, as well as the layers of subtext throughout the movie.

A Must-Watch for Casino Fans

It’s a must-watch for fans of card counting films and lovers of casino games, such as blackjack and poker. However, William “Tell” Titch is the opposite of Rain Man’s Raymond Babbit, as he’s tired, mysterious, and even a little lizard-like. Yet, like Babbit, he knows how to count cards at blackjack and can memorize every card during play. Plus, he knows when to bet big and gambles modestly to avoid drawing attention to himself.

It’s clear military prison has shaped Tillich as the man you see throughout the movie. He’s not only filled with a deep self-hate and intense personal discipline, but it appears he can’t leave prison behind, as he removes all pictures from each budget motel he stays in and wraps its furniture in sackcloth to resemble a cell.

A Dark Tale

The beauty of The Card Counter is that the movie isn’t what you think it is. At the start, it might seem like another casino-inspired flick with Schrader’s signature troubled male protagonist, but it’s much more than that. As you reach the gripping conclusion, you realize the movie is less about winning it big on the likes of blackjack and poker and more about the deep and dark realities of the US military and even, dare we say it, American vulgarity.

A Phenomenal Cast

The Card Counter gives the gift of a phenomenal cast. Oscar Isaac is every bit as engrossing as you would expect him to be. The Golden Globe Award-winning actor provides a convincing portrayal as William “Tell” Tillich, who is trained in advanced interrogation (torture) but served jail time before making a success as a professional gambler. Other notable performances include William Dafoe’s John Gordon, who is responsible for Tillich’s violent path, and Tiffany Haddish’s La Linda, a caring poker tour bankroll representative who captures Will’s black heart and is sure to capture yours, too. Yet, the movie isn’t without its flaws. The romance between Tiffany Haddish and Tillich is gripping, but the spark never ignites, as Tiffany Haddish doesn’t receive the screentime she rightly deserves.


The Card Counter is more than a casino-inspired flick. It is a dark and gripping insight into America and its military, which is why it might divide opinions among many movie lovers. Yet, the flick proves Paul Schrader is a master at telling compelling stories of morally ambiguous male protagonists. It’s a movie that will remain with you long after it’s over, but its dark plot is as big a gamble as the highest stakes game of poker, as it’s a flick that’s sure to split opinions.

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