The Card Counter has recently been released in U.S. theaters and is fast becoming one of the most intriguing films of the fall season.


The film concerns William Tell (Oscar Isaac), a former serviceman haunted by his time in the Iraq War. Tell is attempting to make a life for himself on the poker scene when he encounters a young man named Cirk (Tye Sheridan) who is seeking revenge on a mutual acquaintance (and military colonel). Tell sees a new opportunity to better himself through Cirk, and the two see the stories of the two characters become entwined.


The Card Counter Actors


Oscar Isaac, Tye Sheridan, Tiffany Haddish, Willem Dafoe, Alexander Babara, Bobby C. King, Bryan Truong, Adrienne Lau, Ekaterina Baker, Joel Michaely, Dylan Flashner, Rachel Michiko Whitney, Kirill Sheynerman, Muhsin Fliah, Joseph Singletary, Britton Webb, Amia Edwards, Amye Gousset.


The Card Counter Direction & Production


The Card Counter was written and directed by Paul Schrader in his first cinematic effort since 2017 (when he directed both First Reformed and Dark). A number of producers are attached to the project, but it is particularly noteworthy that Martin Scorsese is involved. Scorsese is said to have played a legitimate role in crafting the film, which makes sense given his concern for cinema. This is a “real movie” by Scorsese standards (he’s been critical of the superhero trend), as well as a film that’s been released in cinemas rather than through streaming.


The Card Counter Preparation


It is never wholly necessary to prepare for a movie. You can always go see it and simply see what you think. That said, there is depth and complexity to Paul Schrader’s films, as well as to The Card Counter’s subject matter. To get the most out of it, you might actually consider doing a little bit of preparation in this case.


Watching Schrader films

The best films by Paul Schrader are worth revisiting anyway. They include Mishima: A Life In Four Chapters, Blue Collar, Hardcore, and, as mentioned, First Reformed (to name a few). You might also take another look at the likes of Taxi Driver and Raging Bull, both of which Schrader wrote. It is always worthwhile to review a director’s work if you want to understand his latest film. With Schrader in particular though there is a raw, hard-hitting approach it can be helpful to be prepared for.


Learning poker basics – The Card Counter is not entirely a story about poker. Nevertheless it is a “poker movie,” and for that reason understanding some of fundamental rules of poker is probably for the best. This does not mean you have to be an expert in the game. But knowing general rules and terms, and how the game is played, will make the poker scenes in this or any poker movie far more engaging. This incidentally brings us to our next point.


Watching poker films – If you have the time, you might also gain something from revisiting other poker films before watching The Card Counter. This is a sort of niche genre unto itself that has developed over the decades, and there are always shades of past poker movies in new ones. Watch Casino, Rounders, and Molly’s Game for instance, and you may well see echoes of the bunch in certain aspects of The Card Counter.


Reading about Abu Ghraib – This is a darker process, but the simple fact is that The Card Counter has a lot to say about the early days of the Iraq War and the torture that occurred at the Abu Ghraib prison. The film tells its own story, but those who want context would do well to read about Abu Ghraib before watching.


The Card Counter Reception


Early reception for The Card Counter has been strong. The film has a “certified fresh” rating at Rotten Tomatoes and has been hailed as a four-star film at Roger Ebert’s platform. It has also been referred to as a furious vision from Paul Schrader, indicating that there is a certain hard-nosed quality to the film.


Reviews can only tell us so much, but the general perception is that The Card Counter is a heavy but necessary tale. Poker is used as a clever vehicle to drive the audience to a bigger and more important story, and Oscar Isaac delivers a performance that may well have him on awards season shortlists.


The Card Counter appears to be a film we’ll look back on as one of the best and most important releases of 2021.