What does skilled poker have in frequent with enhanced interrogation? This lean, imply thriller (of kinds) from Paul Schrader.
Picture: Courtesy of Focus Options

The primary time photos from Abu Ghraib seem in The Card Counter, it’s as if the display screen has ruptured and one thing horrible it had been holding again has spilled out. The Card Counter is a movie about skilled playing, which is to say that it’s a movie that takes place nearly solely in regionless anyplaces just like the flooring of casinos, the interiors of roadside eateries, and the nameless motel rooms its protagonist, who goes by the title William Inform (Oscar Isaac), prefers for the night time. William has secrets and techniques, after all — one of many first issues we’re informed about him is that he realized to rely playing cards throughout a ten-year incarceration — however being conscious of that doesn’t put together you for the full-on sensory assault of his recollections of his time committing atrocities in that Iraq jail. They spew out in sequences shot with an excessive wide-angle lens that makes no matter horror is immediately in entrance of the digicam lurch ahead whereas turning the world right into a maze. Heavy steel, the soundtrack of “enhanced interrogation,” blares, a way that works on its afflicters in addition to the troubled. When Cirk (Tye Sheridan), a child William takes underneath his wing, tunes the automotive radio to one thing guitar-heavy, William shuts the music off, telling him, “If you’ve actually ever been there, you’d never want to hear that shit again.”

The Card Counter, a compact thriller (of kinds), is the brand new movie from Paul Schrader, a author and director whose curiosity in tormented, solitary males extends again to his screenplay for Taxi Driver. William’s specific model of solitary torment locations him someplace between First Reformed’s Ernst Toller, the moody minister with whom he shares a whiskey-and-journaling behavior, and Alain Delon in Le Samouraï, with whom he shares an austere cool. What makes The Card Counter so scrumptious, apart from the Mad Libs high quality of the way in which it connects card enjoying and government-sanctioned torture, is that the film undermines the Spartan swagger of William’s half-existence as typically because it basks in it. When William sees the mess Cirk has fabricated from the resort room he’s been staying in, he asks, “You live like this?” Later, when Cirk will get a take a look at how William habitually covers and wraps every thing within the rooms he rents with white throw cloths, as if tenting out in a home that’s been closed for the season, he returns the query.

La Linda, performed by Tiffany Haddish, finds monetary backers for gamers on the professional circuit who should be staked, and even she finds William’s dedication extreme, teasing him about how he ought to exit to a park from time to time. Haddish, who doesn’t have many non-comedic roles underneath her belt, is given a femme fatale’s entrance that doesn’t swimsuit her, and the primary salvos between her and Isaac (“That’s what you do, you run a stable?” “I’m always looking for a good thoroughbred”) are unpromisingly awkward. Haddish is just too implicitly heat a display screen presence to match the severity Isaac comes into the movie exuding, and she or he labors with a few of the stylized banter she’s given. However the two actors have an affinity for each other that’s unattainable to disregard, and their characters’ flirtations are scorching in a splendidly off-kilter manner. Somewhat than turn out to be an adjunct to William’s guilt-ridden itinerancy, La Linda makes it appear like it’s as a lot an affectation as his nemesis on the poker circuit, a Ukrainian participant who wears the celebs and stripes and chants “U-S-A! U-S-A!” at any time when he knocks somebody out on the desk. She forces William to interrupt character, and in doing so, to acknowledge the component of kayfabe within the subsistence he’s chosen for himself.

William’s guilt and rage are actual, but when his recollections of the army are a hellscape, his card enjoying is a purgatory through which he can keep away from coping with his previous. La Linda and Cirk, in several methods, require him to start out participating once more — La Linda as a result of she represents the promise of an actual life, and Cirk as a result of he reminds William of himself. Cirk is a university dropout who’s turn out to be fixated on killing John Gordo (Willem Dafoe, dripping menacing smarm), the main turned non-public contractor who educated his father, and who educated William, at Abu Ghraib. Whereas William was jailed for what he did, Cirk’s father was dishonorably discharged and went on to turn out to be an abusive alcoholic who killed himself. Cirk’s drive for revenge is clearly born out of a need to determine a single supply of his ache — a vaguely thought-out plan to put in grandeur and goal right into a life going nowhere. William acknowledges the puerility of Cirk’s dead-end mission, and with out acknowledging the diploma it’s additionally his, dedicates himself to serving to the younger man transfer on. The Card Counter takes place in a punishing world of windowless casinos, resort ballrooms, and highways devoid of surroundings — a imaginative and prescient of the America used to justify the actions that now so traumatize William, that’s deliberately bereft of poetry till La Linda takes William to a park illuminated by Christmas lights. If it’s not a rustic price shedding your soul for, it’s additionally not one that can pay any thoughts to a life spent wallowing in angst over it, both.

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