“The card counter, the casino executioner”

In this Paul Schrader film, Oscar Isaac plays a methodical gambler and former military man guilty of unforgivable acts.

Confined to prison for a decade, William enjoyed the routine and discipline, and learned to count cards and memorize them. Once out, he made it his job, his source of income, a professional gambler who earns just enough to keep himself unnoticed. Oscar Isaac (who was a pilot in “Star Wars”, a villain in “X-Men”, and recently Duke Leto in “Dune”) plays this William Tell, an ordinary, methodical guy, in Paul Schrader’s “The Card Counter” (out December 29).

Presented at the Deauville American Film Festival, this film is co-produced by filmmaker Martin Scorsese, for whom Paul Schrader, an emblematic screenwriter of the New Hollywood, wrote “Taxi Driver”, “Raging Bull”, “The Last Temptation of Christ”, and “Open Tomb”. Director of some twenty films, including “American Gigolo”, Schrader explores a series of themes, guilt, redemption, through solitary characters who face their demons, their nightmares.

William Tell is one of them, wandering from casino to casino, from game room to game room. Poker, blackjack, roulette… in Atlantic City or any other city, it helps him pass the time. “I like playing cards,” he says. Immobile at the table, he has programmed his own routine, repetitive, which brings him inner peace, a life in the gray, “a kind of non-existence”, out of time, like a purgatory. Everything is rigorous in his daily life, but he hides a few quirks, a few tricks, including this habit of wrapping a white sheet around the furniture in motel rooms.

A duty to remember

He, who until then, traveled alone, takes under his wing a young companion who follows him in poker contests, Cirk (played by Tye Sheridan, interpreter of Cyclops in the “X-Men). William socializes, humanizes, even more by falling under the spell of a gambler’s agent, La Linda (played by Tiffany Haddish). With this card counter, we think we are in a casino movie, where gambling is the stake; but the young Cirk sends him back to his past: he wants to avenge his father, a former soldier who committed suicide, and counts on William’s help.

William is also an ex-soldier and was locked up in a military prison. Today gifted for cards, he was yesterday gifted for torture, was torturer in the camp of Abu Ghraib, in Iraq. An executioner condemned by his country’s justice system, unlike his superiors and his private consultants, who were neither worried nor arrested, despite the atrocities they had committed. In a form of despair, guilty of unforgivable acts, William wears this fault like a cross; his work of memory is a duty of remembrance, which leads him in the end to an outburst of expiatory violence.

Patrick TARDIT

“The Card Counter”, a film by Paul Schrader, starring Oscar Isaac (released on December 29).

Tye Sheridan (interpreter of Cyclops in the "X-Men") plays a young man who will send William back to his past.
Tye Sheridan (interpreter of Cyclops in the “X-Men”) plays a young man who will send William back to his past.
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