The new film starring Oscar Isaac has left a good taste in the mouth of international critics. And it is not only because of the display of talent of the actor, known for his role in the new Star Wars trilogy and who previously showed his potential in films like Agora: it is a set of virtues that, at times, are overshadowed by a somewhat conservative direction that does not affect, despite everything, the final result.
The talent is there, and it was expected
Oscar Isaac is becoming a safe bet in Hollywood. It seems that everything he touches he does well, even if what surrounds him is a mess. Because let’s not deny it, the Guatemalan-American actor has the talent to carry several soccer stadiums (or movie theaters, since we’re talking about him), and it was difficult for a film like The Card Counter to go wrong. And there’s one thing the film knows how to do right from the start, which is to leave the weight of the entire story on the character played by Isaac.
The film revolves around William Tell, an ex-military man and expert poker player who becomes embroiled in a tale of back and forth between a somewhat mysterious young woman and a high-ranking military commander. Tell’s skills, who still spends many hours a day at the table, will be decisive in making his way to the colonel, the target of the young woman who craves revenge for a gruesome story from the past.
Although the synopsis, which I will not develop further to avoid spoilers of any kind, is somewhat generic, the truth is that the film treasures good moments that know how to capture the essence of poker. This is not a documentary, that is clear, and much less a show based on this game: it is a story in which the nuances of personality play a key role and that, on more than one occasion, hint at their relationship with poker. In the end, the game ends up having more weight than it initially seems.
However, in The Card Counter it is not so much what it tells that matters, but how it tells it. It is not for nothing that the film was directed by the famous Paul Schrader, screenwriter of Scorsese’s legendary Taxi Driver: Tell is a character with a thousand different nuances. These nuances are not only seen outside the game, but also play a leading role during the games.
This denotes love and dedication to poker, since the film hardly makes any mistakes (but it does make some licenses) when dealing with the game to move the plot forward. Taking into account that in poker every small gesture counts and has great consequences in the games, it was necessary to put the focus in this sense. And the truth is that Oscar Isaac’s skills play a vital role in giving the poker player what he is looking for and making him see the film with different eyes. It’s an effective entertainment that goes beyond popcorn cinema, telling a story that, while not the ultimate storytelling milestone, does work well.
What can a poker player expect from the movie?
As I mentioned at the beginning, the film is pure entertainment and is far removed from the serious nature of documentaries. In fact, it doesn’t even imitate their style. Rather, it flirts with some features of film noir to offer a story with dramatic overtones where poker is shown at times as a visceral, even cruel game, where the fate of three people is decided in a single game.
Something the film also does well is to use the pauses in the pacing to delve into different motivations. In fact, I am sure that more than one poker player will be identified in some of the hardest moments of the film, as personal motivations and the will to reach a higher level can become obsessive and lead to act in a way, at least, questionable.
But let’s talk about poker, which is what it’s all about. It works really well as the driving vehicle of the story, and the progression of the moves that the film depicts is well threaded. It does, however, perhaps suffer from excessive hollywoditis, as there are sections that, while feasible, are highly improbable. However, this is something that only the most well-versed in poker will detect and that, after all, they work well in the context in which they have been integrated.
Where Paul Schrader’s hand is most noticeable is in the way in which certain aspects of the players begin to manifest themselves during the game, and the way in which they do so. Moreover, I would even say that it is the culmination of Schrader in this sense, since we are facing a very well built characters, with a personality formed by a thousand prisms that stops to explore effectively and patiently, but without falling into the stupor and letting the story move forward.
In short, a good entertainment product that proves to be solvent in all sections, with the undoubted attraction of seeing a different performance by Oscar Isaac (a versatile actor) and where Paul Schrader shows some of his best traits in terms of character construction, although the direction can be conservative at times. Highly recommended.