The Card counter: Oscar Isaac shines in an uneven Paul Schrader [critique]

Paul Schrader questions the guilt of America in this sketch of his cinema, too gaunt. But Oscar Isaac impresses as a masochistic samurai.

The advantage with Paul Schrader is that even after an artistic achievement like that of First Reformed (the culmination of his career, according to him), he shouldn’t have asked himself too many questions to know how to bounce back. Man, deep down, is still gnawing the same bone. More or less always makes the same film. The Card Counter is therefore presented as a new variation on the eternal pattern of his cinema: it is the portrait of a loner, indulging in a routine occupation, driven by a self-destructive drive, and who will see his life turned upside down by the saving power of love. William Tell (Oscar Isaac) is a poker and blackjack player, coming out of a long prison sentence, which he was serving for having practiced torture in Abu Ghraib. Haunted by guilt, he meets a young man (Tye Sheridan), who wants to convince him to take revenge on the crazy officer who drove him to crime and escaped justice (Willem Dafoe) … If Oscar Isaac impresses in Masochistic samurai, mutic and feline, Schrader’s search for a sketch ends up turning against the film. Robert Bresson’s visual quotes, already used extensively in his previous works, here turn to the process, almost to the gag. By dint of degreasing, Schrader sends some pegs of the story (the meeting between Isaac and Sheridan seems unlikely) and prevents the emotion to settle. However, we know that his most beautiful films (American gigolo in mind) are those where passion suddenly starts to ignite his Zen compositions. This is unfortunately not the case here.

By Paul Schrader. With Oscar Isaac, Tiffany Haddish, Tye Sheridan… Duration 1h52. Release on December 29, 2021

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