Venice Film Festival 2021: The Card Counter

Paul Schrader delivers another exacting drama following a haunted man in search of redemption in tense morality tale The Card Counter

Film Review by Rafaela Sales Ross | 02 Sep 2021
  • The Card Counter
Film title: The Card Counter
Director: Paul Schrader
Starring: Oscar Isaac, Tiffany Haddish, Tye Sheridan, Willem Dafoe
Release date: 5 Nov
Certificate: 15

There is very little card counting in The Card Counter, Paul Schrader’s much-anticipated follow-up to his searing 2017 drama First Reformed. Ex-military interrogator Will (Oscar Isaac) counts cards, sure, but Schrader’s latest steers clear of the gimmicky tricks of the gambling movie sub-genre in lieu of building a tense, morally complex portrayal of yet another haunted man in search of redemption.

“I stick to modest goals”, says Will when describing his modus operandi. And modesty certainly comes to mind to illustrate the settings in which he plays, which are the stark opposite of the opulent casinos usually brought to screen. Schrader wants nothing to do with glamour, moving his narrative from one decrepit room to the other, the halls as unremarkable as the people in them. Time, in this decaying underworld, is an inescapable vortex where day and night blend under bright fluorescent lights.

Will sticks to a carefully crafted routine, from covering every surface of his shabby motel rooms in white sheets to the small-wins, small-losses philosophy he adheres to when playing. Alas, this meticulousness goes out the window when the sombre ex-con meets Cirk (Ty Sheridan), a young man with a bill to settle and La Linda (Tiffany Haddish), an expert in settling bills. From here onwards, The Card Counter melts into a masterclass of tension that manages to dwell on the many dichotomies of morality while never once flinching to the horrors that lie deep within the human condition, which in Schrader's vision is a mesmerising perpetual cycle of violence and guilt.


The Card Counter had its world premiere at Venice Film Festival, and is released in the UK on 5 Nov via Universal
Read more of our Venice coverage here