Oscar Isaac? An incel? Nah. Sorry, Schrader.
This feels a tad Refn and Twin Peaks: The Return-esc due to its stoned out mood, numbing synth score, and deliberately awkward dialogue followed by blank-faced performance chemistry, with Paul Schrader further using these surreal and uncanny aesthetics to compliment some minor additions to his ever so continuing “lonely man” vet which, unfortunately, on-the-noses the comfort of man’s repetitious nature in an atmosphere of systematic and machine-equivalent casino life practice that’s meant to exhibit a debatably bright-side outturn of temporary imprisonment’s militarized, static order and the semi-recreation of accepting more losses than wins. But then as we ease into the main character’s past, the film seems to admirably 180 or neutralize / diss that side of militarized lifestyle with what, ALSO unfortunately, ends up being a terminal bare-boning of organized supremacy in corrupt American hierarchies and the lower class / rank backfiring that comes from biases in real life blamings of heinous conundrums such as the Abu Ghraib, another underlying nudge that could’ve been dug on past blatancy or dully fixed allegories.
Sometimes though, the style makes the film conciliating to watch, and the few malicious scene jolts in it only hit harder given this primary delegation for a collected tone, but I think it would’ve worked way better as a short film considering its minimalist expansion on the few great ideas and parallels that it submits itself to throughout, making The Card Counter almost a guarantee for boring the living s**t out of most audiences with its nearly two-hour runtime. I still can’t make my mind up on how to feel about the ending as well. Is Schrader‘s signature being reformed here or tantalized? If anything, I’m leaning towards the word “copied” instead given how connected the theme bows seem to be in much of his past work, but I still can’t say that I was completely able to decode it after the word “redemption” kept blinking rapidly in my notes as soon as the credits rolled in light of “guilt” being such a crux to the story. My bet, however, is that it’s more so showing you the gravity of this “guilt” being taken to its absolute extreme rather than literally being showcased as objective “redemption”. It’s just something the main character may convince himself to be “redemption”, which is… predictable and typical to say the least knowing Schrader; sounds like “Taxi Driver (1976) for Dummies” to me and with a foggier tone to communicate such!
Those prison torture sequences were effective ASF nevertheless. I’ve been embracing the filter-lens-whore side of my taste recently. Feels good. Isaac deserves a nom too for carrying this. Legend.
“The Card Counter” is now playing in theaters.