THE CARD COUNTER – Review by Susan Granger

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When filmmaker Paul Schrader’s The Card Counter opens with graphic shots of the torture chambers at Abu Ghraib prison, it immediately telegraphs that this drama will be more about brutality than blackjack.

Haunted by memories of what he’s done, ascetic William Tillich (Oscar Isaac) is a disgraced former military ‘interrogator’ who uses the surname ‘Tell’ and roams the country living under the radar as part of the low-stakes casino circuit, never wanting to draw attention to himself as a big winner. Blackjack is his game of choice, but he also plays roulette and poker.

“I never imagined myself as someone suited to incarceration,” he notes, explaining how he adjusted to a long stint in Leavenworth. “It was in prison that I learned to count cards. You win, you walk away. You lose, you walk away.”

Refusing to stay at glitzy casino hotels, Tell checks into seedy motels – one night only – paying in cash. After entering his room, he begins a bizarre ritual of removing pictures from the wall and encasing each lamp and piece of furniture in white drop cloths, carefully tied with twine. Why? Perhaps not to leave fingerprints. Who knows?

While taking a dinner break between juggling cards and chips, he’s approached by La Linda (Tiffany Haddish), who runs a stable of gamblers, bankrolled by an anonymous backer. She wants him to join her group to play a bigger game with high-stakes competitors.

Then he meets Cirk Baufort (Tye Sheridan), the college dropout son of a deceased, dishonorably discharged comrade. Tell ostensibly tries to discourage the sullen kid from a devious revenge plot against a mutual enemy, sadistic Major John Gordo (Willem Dafoe), by helping him to turn his life around.

They’re both solitary, disaffected loners, never revealing their torment or intentions. For them, is redemption even possible?

That question is never answered by director/screenwriter Paul Schrader (First Reformed), although his dirge runs an agonizing 1 hour, 50 minutes.

On the Granger Gauge of 1 to 10, The Card Counter is a desolate, depraved, depressing 4. Available on Prime Video, HBO, Apple TV & Vudu. Deal me out!

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Susan Granger

Susan Granger is a product of Hollywood. Her natural father, S. Sylvan Simon, was a director and producer at R.K.O., M.G.M. and Columbia Pictures; her adoptive father, Armand Deutsch, produced movies at M.G.M. As a child, Susan appeared in movies with Abbott & Costello, Red Skelton, Lucille Ball, Margaret O'Brien and Lassie. She attended Mills College in California, studying journalism with Pierre Salinger, and graduated from the University of Pennsylvania with highest honors in journalism. During her adult life, Susan has been on radio and television as an anchorwoman and movie/drama critic. Her newspaper reviews have been syndicated around the world, and she has appeared on American Movie Classics cable television. In addition, her celebrity interviews and articles have been published in REDBOOK, PLAYBOY, FAMILY CIRCLE, COSMOPOLITAN, WORKING WOMAN and THE NEW YORK TIMES, as well as in PARIS MATCH, ELLE, HELLO, CARIBBEAN WORLD, ISLAND LIFE, MACO DESTINATIONS, NEWS LIMITED NEWSPAPERS (Australia), UK DAILY MAIL, UK SUNDAY MIRROR, DS (France), LA REPUBBLICA (Italy), BUNTE (Germany), VIP TRAVELLER (Krisworld) and many other international publications through SSG Syndicate. Susan also lectures on the "Magic and Mythology of Hollywood" and "Don't Take It Personally: Conquering Criticism and other Survival Skills," originally published on tape by Dove Audio.