4 Thoughts I Had While Watching ‘The Card Counter’

Oscar Isaac stars as William Tell and Tye Sheridan as Cirk in THE CARD COUNTER
Courtesy of Focus Features / ©2021 Focus Features, LLC

Hey, Hollywooders! What’s Good in the ‘Wood?

I just got back from seeing The Card Counter, one of the many new movie releases out now in movie theaters.

I took a look at theaters near me to compare movie showtimes and settled on going to the 7 p.m. movie showtime at the Showcase Cinemas theater near me. When I walked into the lobby there was barely anyone there, making it fast and easy for movie-goers to purchase movie theater popcorn and other concessions. Once in my auditorium, I was one of only 8 people there to see The Card Counter. 

The Card Counter is a crime drama written and directed by Paul Schrader. The film stars Oscar Isaac, Tiffany Haddish, Tye Sheridan, and Willem Dafoe. Martin Scorsese serves as the executive producer of the film.

The Card Counter did not unfold how I expected it to 

Before going to the movie theater to see The Card Counter, I knew that its genre and who starred in it, but I didn’t know much about the film otherwise. Right off the bat, the movie was completely different from what I was expecting. The music and opening credits made it feel like an old movie and helped set the mood for the film, lending a feeling of melancholy.


 
 
 
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Knowing that The Card Counter was a crime drama, I expected there to be intense events taking place throughout the film with some action. However, there was none of that. While the events that unfolded in the movie were rather simple, the intensity lied more in the emotion behind the characters’ motives.

The Card Counter moved at a very slow pace, so it took a while for me to figure out where the story was going. Despite it being a slow burn, there was quite a lot going on in the film once the plot began to unravel. Instead of the movie solely focusing on the main character’s gambling as the first few scenes led me to believe it would, there were many moving parts that came along with his habit that helped contribute to the moral of the film.

The Card Counter’s main character is very mysterious 

The beginning of The Card Counter is narrated by the main character William Tell (Oscar Isaac) and the audience sees him in a casino, at a blackjack table playing cards. Aside from that, nothing is made known to the viewer about his life or his past.


 
 
 
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Due to the slow nature of the movie, it takes a while to learn the backstory of William Tell. In the casino, he seems like a normal guy wearing a suit, pulling out of the blackjack game before he loses his earnings. Once he checks into his hotel, however, we see that there is something very different about William, after he covers every piece of furniture in the unit with its own white sheet. Though the audience never learns why William does this, it indicates that he lives his life in a very particular way, which the viewer can infer is due to something he’s experienced in his past.

Once William meets a young man named Cirk (Kirk with a “C”), we begin to see William’s backstory unfold. Up until this point, William seems like a very straightforward guy— he talks calmly and is very reserved. This changes when he and Cirk are drinking coffee in a diner and we finally hear some emotion in his voice as he tells Cirk a story from his past.

The audience learns that William was stationed in Abu Ghraib when he was in the military. Through flashbacks, we see that William has an extremely dark past as he was directed to torture prisoners in Abu Ghraib, which eventually landed him in jail. These scenes are executed using a wide camera angle which makes the situation even more uncomfortable and disturbing.

It’s so weird to see Tiffany Haddish in a more serious role

Usually, when I’m watching Tiffany Haddish in a movie, she has the audience erupting into laughter. The Card Counter, however, did not have any points of comedic relief. This forced Tiffany to play a more serious role, which I was not used to.


 
 
 
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I think I found it hard to separate Tiffany Haddish the comedian from the Tiffany Haddish that played La Linda in The Card Counter. With the other actors, it was easier for me to believe their performance because I didn’t have any preconceived notions of them. While I liked Tiffany’s character and thought it was fun to watch her act in a different genre, I think I would definitely prefer to watch her in a comedy.

At its core, The Card Counter is about confronting your past

While at some points The Card Counter felt like it was about the importance of human connection, the film’s true theme was the importance of coming to terms with your past.

William lived in a constant state of distractions; he traveled across the country staying in different hotels every week to play cards in nearby casinos. When he met La Linda and Cirk, it seemed that he devevoped relationships with them as another way to take his mind off of his past trauma.


 
 
 
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At the beginning of the film, William said something along the lines of ‘the game of blackjack is played in a way that the past dictates the future of the games.” The reflects the subject matter of the movie as we see how the three main characters’ pasts landed them in their current situations, bringing them to each other.

As much as William tries to run from his past, he eventually has to face it showing that you can never fully escape what has happened earlier in your life. One scene toward the end of the film shows that William has simply been suppressing his trauma and has never actually been able to move past it.

A song at the end of the film sings “You just need someone to carry you home.” I thought that this line perfectly encapsulated the entire film, as it focused on the relationships that form when one is trying to deal with the cards that life has dealt them.

What critics thought about The Card Counter

The Card Counter has received praise from movie-goers and critics.

Justin Chang of the Los Angeles Times said that The Card Counter tells its story not just through the script, but through the entire mood and atmosphere of the film: “Scene by scene, it pulls us into a world that coheres not just through plotting and dialogue, but through the sharp rhythms of Benjamin Rodriguez Jr.’s editing, the hard shimmer of Alexander Dynan’s images and the humdrum precision of Ashley Fenton’s production design.  

The New York TimesManohla Davis wrote that The Card Counter is “a haunting, moving story of spirit and flesh, sin and redemption, love and death about another lonely soul, William Tell, who, with pen to paper, grapples with his present and his unspeakable past.

Read what everyday movie-goers thought of The Card Counter here!

I have to say, The Card Counter is by no means a movie I would typically go for, but I think it tells a very important message and gives an interesting commentary on trauma and even generational trauma.

Looking to head to the movies soon to see The Card Counter or one of the other new releases out now? Check out our guide for safely visiting the movie theater!

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