The Card Counter Movie Review: Is it Any Good?

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The Card Counter 2021, was written and directed by Paul Schrader and stars Oscar Isaac, as William Tell, a professional card counter. The movie explores the world of high stakes blackjack and the psychological toll it takes on Tell as he tries to balance his love life and his obsession with the game.

In this The Card Counter movie review, we’re going to tell you our thoughts on the film.Warning: There are spoilers throughout this review!

  • The Card Counter Movie Review
  • Our General Thoughts
  • About the Card Counter
  • The Main Plot: Part #1
  • The Main Plot: Part #2
  • The Good
  • What’s Bad
  • Other Gambling-Inspired Movies
  • Frequently Asked Questions
The Card Counter Movie Review

In our The Card Counter movie review, we’re going to discuss the plot, what’s good and what’s bad. If you’re unfamiliar with the movie, it had its world premiere at the 78th Venice International Film Festival on September 2, 2021. It’s been received with mixed reviews by viewers and critics alike.

The Card Counter Review: Our Thoughts

When writing this The Card Counter review, we looked at numerous factors to evaluate the film. Overall, it’s a slow-burning character piece that will probably appeal to fans of psychological dramas and gambling movies. The film’s deliberate slow pace and sparse dialogue may not be for everyone, but it’s worth sticking with for the strong performances and climax.

Rotten Tomatoes gives the film an approval rating of 87%, based on 221 reviews. The average viewer rating is 7.5/10, with generally favorable reviews from critics. Firstly, let’s look at more about the film and its background.

Background to the Movie

The Card Counter was first announced in 2019. An official statement revealed that Oscar Isaac had been cast and that the movie was to be written and directed by Paul Schrader. Just a few months later, in January 2020, Schrader revealed that Tye Sheridan, Willem Dafoe, and Tiffany Haddish had also joined the cast.

The movie first began filming in Biloxi, Mississippi in February 2020, just days before the global COVID-19 pandemic shut down the world. In March 2020, filming was paused when an actor tested positive for COVID-19, and it took four months before production would resume. The filming was finished just six days later, on July 12, 2020.

William Tell – the lead character – explains, throughout the movie, how card counting works using language taken almost verbatim from a YouTube video from Wired, called “Blackjack Expert Explains How Card Counting Works”. This caused some controversy, but it’s unknown whether Wired pursued legal action.

When we were putting our The Card Counter rating together, we uncovered several interesting facts about the production. For example, initially Shia LaBeouf was cast in the movie, only to be dropped due to scheduling conflicts. Schrader’s close friend, Nicolas Cage, recommended that Tye Sheridan play the character called Cirk.

Another interesting fact we uncovered was that the film’s budget was incredibly low, meaning the production team could only afford to do one or two takes for each scene. According to Oscar Isaac, this was challenging at first – later becoming a “refreshing change.”

The Main Plot: Part #1

The main plot of The Card Counter revolves around the character of William Tell, a convict who taught himself the art of card counting while serving his eight-year sentence in a military prison. Using a “bet small, win modestly” strategy, Tell managed to avoid attention from security staff, and he initially lives from his suitcase, moving around every couple of days.

During one of his casino sessions, Tell meets a beautiful woman called La Linda. She’s somehow familiar to Tell, and he knows she’s involved in gambling. She already manages a successful gambling investment fund, which backs successful gamblers. In return for getting staked, the gambler pays the fund a percentage of any winnings they make. Linda makes an offer to back Williams, but he says no.

While gambling at a casino in Atlantic City, Tell realizes a convention focused on security and loss prevention in the gambling industry is being held at the same casino he’s playing at. He sneaks into the convention but is recognized on his way out by a man called Cirk Baufort. He slips Tell his phone number, and eventually receives a call from the troubled ex-soldier.

Baufort reveals to Tell that he knows his true identity: PFC William Tillich, a disgraced ex-soldier who was sent to prison after being found guilty of torturing prisoners in Abu Ghraib. It turns out that Cirk holds the convention’s organizer – Major John Gordo – accountable for his father’s death and asks for Tell’s help killing him.

Tell refuses the offer, but offers, instead, to allow Baufort to accompany him as he gambles around the country to remove him from a violent and potentially dangerous life.

The Main Plot: Part #2

After initially turning down her offer, Tell contacts La Linda to say that he is now interested. He tells her he plans to attend the World Series of Poker (WSOP) circuit to scoop enough tournament prize pools to give money to Cirk. This would allow Cirk to clear all his debt and begin a new life.

Initially, Tell does well, winning money. However, he eventually loses to Mr. USA. Strangely, he bonds with Cirk, and also shows feelings of attraction towards La Linda. A few weeks later while gambling in Panama City, Cirk reveals to Tell he will still go ahead with killing Gordo. Tell gives Cirk $150,000, which is more than enough for his debts to be paid off.

While Cirk convinced Tell he would do just that, at first, it’s later revealed through an SMS message that he went back on his word and went to Gordo’s house to kill him. Unfortunately, a news channel was live streaming in the poker room. It reported that Gordo shot and killed an intruder, who Tell presumes to be Cirk.

Tell leaves mid-way through a WSOP event and drives straight to Gordo’s house. Tell holds Gordo at gunpoint, before torturing him, attempting to replicate the abuse Gordo himself carried out on prisoners in Abu Ghraib. Tell eventually kills Gordo, and is later arrested, and sent back to the very same prison complex he first learned card counting in.

The last scene we saw impacts our The Card Counter rating, and shows Tell being visited in prison by La Linda. They both extend their hands and place their fingers on the divider that separates prisoners and visitors.

The Good

When we were writing this The Card Counter review, one of the highlights, we felt, were the strong performances from the cast. Isaac, in particular, delivers a fantastic portrayal of a man struggling with his own demons. The film also effectively builds tension and suspense as the stakes get higher and the risks become greater.

Schrader’s direction is understated but effective, allowing the performances and the story to shine. We were also really impressed with the film’s cinematography. Despite the low budget, and tight timeframes, the production team captured some amazing shots. Particularly notable are the scenes shot in casinos.

The Bad

While this movie will appeal to many, we understand that it’s not for everyone and this impacted our The Card Counter rating. For example, the slow pace and sparse dialogue may appear boring to some viewers. Some critics have also pointed out that the movie is slow-moving, something that we tend to agree with.

We also found that the film’s focus on character development and internal conflict takes up a bit too much time. We’d love to see more gambling scenes, as this is one of the film’s main selling points. There are also some questions left unanswered at the end, and the final scene ends on a somewhat ambiguous note.

Other Gambling Films

If the movie The Card Counter isn’t up your street, you’ll be pleased to learn there are lots of great gambling movies. These films cover everything from poker and craps, to roulette and baccarat. They may even put you in the mood to try out some table games for yourself at the best casino sites

Below, we’re going to look at a few other gambling movies you may like:

CasinoMartin Scorsese
RoundersJohn Dahl
The Color of MoneyMartin Scorsese
21Robert Luketic
Ocean’s ElevenSteven Soderbergh
CroupierMike Hodges
Frequently Asked Questions

Hopefully, this The Card Counter movie review has given you a better insight into what to expect from the film if you decide to watch it. Admittedly, it’s not for everyone, but the storyline is good, and there are some great gambling scenes. Below, we’re going to answer a few additional questions about the movie.

Who stars in The Card Counter?

The Card Counter stars Oscar Isaac as William Tell, the main character, and Willem Dafoe as Major John Gordo. Tye Sheridan also stars as Cirk, and La Linda is played by Tiffany Haddish. Alexander Babara and Bobby C. King also made minor appearances as Mr. USA and Slippery Joe, respectively. It wasn’t the highest profile cast we’ve ever seen, but the actors performed well together on screen.

When did The Card Counter enter production?

October 2019 was the date that Paul Schrader revealed that Oscar Isaac had been cast to play the role of William Tell. Filming first began in February 2020, although several COVID-19-related setbacks caused delays. Production was completed in July 2020, and later that month, Focus Features acquired the U.S. distribution rights to the movie.

What is The Card Counter about?

The film The Card Counter is about a professional card counter called William Tell who travels from casino to casino counting cards and using his skills to win money. He learned how to count cards while serving an eight-year sentence in a military prison.

How does the movie end?

In the film’s closing scene, Tell is back in the same military prison he started out in, after being convicted for killing Major Gordo. The final scene shows his lover, La Linda, touching the glass partition separating them as she visits him in jail.

What other gambling movies are there?

There are a lot of other great gambling films. One of the most well-known is Martin Scorsese’s Casino, and John Dahl’s Rounders is another notable contender. Other titles worth checking out include The Color of Money, 21, and Ocean’s Eleven.

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