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When the picture focuses on the bond between the titular character and a young man out to avenge torture tactics, the film is at its best.

The Card Counter, the latest movie from provocative writer-director Paul Schrader, has plenty of interesting cards up its sleeve yet somehow the film doesn't come up trumps.

Starring Oscar Isaac as a former US soldier who turns his hand to blackjack after spending ten years in jail for atrocities committed against Iraqis in the infamous Abu Ghraib prison, The Card Counter explorers Schrader's familiar themes of guilt, revenge and redemption, but with less poise and urgency than in his best movies.

When the picture focuses on the bond between Isaac and Tye Sheridan, a young man aiming to avenge the torture tactics applied by the US military, The Card Counter is at its best. A subplot involving Isaac being recruited by Tiffany Haddish for her poker card players stable is less engaging though, while the flashbacks to Abu Ghraib suffer from Schrader's decision to film them with a cheap-looking fish eye effect.

The end result is still a film that brings up intriguing questions, even if you wish they had been asked with more purpose and clarity.

release: 2021

director: Paul Schrader

starring: Oscar Isaac, Tiffany Haddish, Tye Sheridan, Willem Dafoe


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