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'The Card Counter': Robin's Movie Review

A movie poster for the film “The Card Counter.” A headshot of Oscar Isaac. He is looking toward the camera with a stern expression. Silhouettes of playing card suits are layered over the image.
Focus Features

For this week’s Movie Minutes, KUNR entertainment reviewer Robin Holabird looks at the latest project from the screenwriter behind Taxi Driver.

Despite its frequent setting in casinos, The Card Counter ignores many gambling movie cliches because its title character cares little about winning and losing. The counter goes by the name William Tell, a slightly telling name when he takes a fatherly interest in a young man he meets at a casino convention. Until then, Tell keeps to himself as a loner, narrating the routine of his life — one that goes outside the confines of tradition. Writer-director Paul Schrader parcels out information, initially focusing on details of Tell’s daily habits, which include moving from small motel to motel and wrapping every bit of furniture in sheets before settling in.

Tell’s narration includes a wordy explanation about his dry approach to betting, an activity he likes for its predictability — not a typical attitude about gambling. Sticking with a high-low system, he maintains modest goals and works under the radar, all described in the movie’s extensive narration.

Primarily a wordsmith with screenplays like Taxi Driver to his credit, director Schrader also understands the instant communication value of visuals and uses William Tell accuracy in targeting his cast. The taut skin covering sharply delineated features of Star Wars’ Oscar Isaac homes in on the character’s rigidity. Other cast members look their parts, from the instantly likable Tiffany Haddish to the easily slimy Willem Dafoe.

While frequent establishing shots and multiple casino locations enhance the story’s real-world feel, their static style leads to slow pacing as the story shifts into some of the moral issues Schrader last explored in his Oscar-nominated screenplay for First Reformed. Though often as cold and restrained as its title character, The Card Counter provides illuminating insights about guilt, control and redemption.

Robin Holabird is KUNR's entertainment reviewer, author and former film commissioner for the Nevada Film Office. A full archive of her reviews can be found here.

Robin Holabird reviews movies for KUNR, and her reviews have aired for more than 30 years. During that time, she has had a high profile in the Nevada film community.
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