200 words about The Card Counter

Trusting the past to providence

It’s in The Card Counter’s title cards and its playing cards: The past determines the present — Paul Schrader’s past, America’s past, etc. Perhaps Schrader scorns political correctness because he knows there is no correctness to be had. All of us are guilty. Expiation is impossible; the best we can do is suffer our past always and hope for grace. Schrader steals from himself a lot here, mainly First Reformed and Light Sleeper, which in turn steal from Robert Bresson, namely Pickpocket in The Card Counter’s case. But there are no thieves in The Card Counter — other than America itself, and to what pitiable and ugly waste. Oscar Isaac plays William Tell (the name itself a tell) with a Sisyphean internal weight. His back is to the camera when he says he’s seen a city burn, yet you feel the fires in his eyes. An Abu Ghraib nightmare is shot with a VR circle lens, then cropped into a rectangular frame, creating an infinite hell labyrinth. And that damnable, distorted reality tears into the film’s third act, consuming some of the connective tissue yet leaving the lion’s heart to beat in your thoughts. Within Schrader’s bleak, beautiful vision is the real forever purge.