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Card Counter, The


Stars: Oscar Isaac, Tiffany Haddish, Tye Sheridan, Willem Dafoe, Bobby C King

Director: Paul Schrader

Schrader was a formidable director in his day and it's impressive that he's still going at 75, with two more projects in the pipeline. His films were almost always gloomy, doomy affairs, but made so persuasively as to make us care about the characters.

Those days, alas, are long gone and, judging by this dreary and uninvolving tale, it's surprising Schrader can still get so many movies off the ground.

Isaac plays William Tell, a taciturn, grey man who learned card-counting skills while serving an eight-year stretch in Leavenworth after his activities as a kind of freelance torturer, involved in Guantanamo Bay and other, even less legal atrocities. His then-boss, Gordo (Dafoe) slipped through the net and is now a big wheel in business.

Drifting from town to town and casino to casino, Tell has assembled a formidable stack of dollars as a result of counting the cards and never betting too high. A youngster, Cirk (silly name), played by Sheridan, attaches himself to Tell, with the eventual aim of killing Gordo over the suicide of Cirk's father, another mercenary torture specialist.

Meanwhile, Tell hooks up with La Linda (Haddish), who handles a string of successful gamblers.

There's a no spark of excitement in the card games, although perhaps the director didn't intend there to be, while the final confrontation between Tell and Gordo takes place off screen. Isaac is pretty much a blank at Tell, while Haddish and Sheridan are just so-so in their roles. There's no chemistry whatever between Haddish and Isaac and kissing him looks like a chore. A busted flush.

David Quinlan

USA 2021. UK Distributor: Universal (Focus). Colour by Company 3.
111 minutes. Not widescreen. UK certificate: 15.

Guidance ratings (out of 3): Sex/nudity 1, Violence/Horror 2, Drugs 0, Swearing 2.

Review date: 31 Oct 2021