Paul Schrader took his viewers on a gritty, brooding and voyeuristic ride into a man’s personal purgatory and nihilistic redemptive journey, in The Card Counter. It featured an unsettling and implosive odyssey of his quintessential “god’s lonely man” – which he’d turned into an anarchic icon in Taxi Driver – through guilt, self-loath and the rotten underbelly of America’s military-industrial complex. William Tell (Oscar Isaac) is an enigmatic, poker-faced gambler who learnt card counting during his long incarceration in a military prison, and makes discreet use of that – so as to operate under the radar – as he compulsively criss-crosses the USA from one casino and gambling joint to another, while carefully masking – through a sterilized identity and obsessive habits – his dark former association with special ops forces during the Iraq War when he was involved in the torture of inmates at the notorious Abu Ghraib detention facility. He, however, decides on a detour from his anesthetized existence upon meeting Cirk (Tye Sheridan), a troubled young guy who wants to take bloody revenge on a private defence contractor (Willem Dafoe) who’d trained soldiers – including Tell himself – on “enhanced interrogation techniques”, but escaped its repercussions on account of being a powerful civilian consultant. Tell wants to avoid the slippery slope of violent vengeance, and hence agrees to a collaboration proposition with an acquaintance (Tiffany Haddish) in order to help put Cirk’s life back on track. Things, understandably, don’t go as per plans. Schrader grabbed attention through fine set-pieces – the deadpan run-down on card counting and nightmarish flashbacks, including a terrific tracking shot, were the standout ones – and these were held together by Isaac’s commendable turn, moody atmosphere and a lingering sense of fatalism.
Director: Paul Schrader
Genre: Drama/Psychological Drama/Political Drama/Crime Drama