By: Amanda Guarragi
Poker is a fairly interesting game, not only to play, but to watch. Sometimes Texas Hold’em can get intense, and Blackjack can get risky. Whether you are watching from home or sitting at a table yourself, the stakes are always high. If you have been at a casino, no matter where you’re standing, there’s a different air that surrounds you. There’s a rush of adrenaline that pumps through your veins because there’s that glimmer of hope you may win big. That is the rush that was severely lacking in The Card Counter.
On paper, this film is textbook bait to have everyone interested. You have Martin Scorsese as executive producer, and Paul Schrader writing/directing. You have Oscar Isaac as a leading man, with Tiffany Haddish in a comedic supporting role, and of course, an underused Willem Dafoe. Schrader wanted to dive into the PTSD of a soldier, who ended up getting abused in prison, only to use certain tactics he learned in there towards poker. Schrader did not know the story he wanted to tell, so it felt jarring and quite disjointed.
A film about poker should not be this slow or uneventful. Yes, Oscar Isaac had an internalized role, but even when he broke, it wasn’t earned. When he did snap, it felt misplaced because the story was convoluted with no clear journey for the lead character. What exactly was Schrader trying to say about PTSD? How was poker an expressive outlet for this broken soldier? The movie is definitely flawed in its execution because the important pieces of dialogue that should have had the viewer connect with Isaac were completely lost.
The Card Counter looks great on paper but Schrader lost the story he was trying to tell. He wanted to add so much depth to the game of poker and it just did not work. Normally Isaac has such a strong presence on screen, and even though he always gives a good performance, he just could not hold this movie together. This was too bleak for a film about poker. The story was there, it could have been more meaningful and hit those emotional beats if it were executed differently.