'The Card Counter' Isn't A Winner
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'The Card Counter' Isn't A Winner

This isn't a film that's only about poker. "The Card Counter" tries to tell a story of revenge and regret

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Oscar Isaac (left) as William Tell and Tiffany Haddish (right) as La Linda sit side by side in a movie still from "The Card Counter."
Credit: Courtesy of Focus Features / ©2021 Focus Features, LLC

William Tell, expertly played by Oscar Isaac, is a master poker player. He knows all the rules, tricks and tips to win a game, and he openly shares these explanations to the audience through monologues played over his card games.

For a film that tries hard to artistically deliver a message on guilt and vengeance, it doesn't narratively make sense to spoon-feed viewers information about the game. Therefore, this narrative could've gone all in, but instead director and writer Paul Schrader continuously passes on a hit.

THE CARD COUNTER - Official Trailer [HD] - Only In Theaters September 10 www.youtube.com

"The Card Counter" tells the story of a violent ex-military interrogator turned gambler who is haunted by his past decisions during service. He blames his downfall on his superior named Gordo(Willem Dafoe) whom he meets again years after serving time in jail and taking the fall for him. Meanwhile a young man (Tye Sheridan) also has a bone to pick with Gordo named Cirk with a "C" (the movie ensures audiences don't forget it as his name becomes a long-running bothersome joke). When Tell and Cirk meet, Tell is faced with a dilemma of seeking revenge or continuing to live his new free life with La Linda (Tiffany Haddish).

The movie has Schrader's characteristic intensity and suspense that's akin to his earlier work like "Taxi Driver," whether or not it's appealing to all. There are times when Tell would cover his hotel furniture with white sheets while sinister-sounding music plays, and that keeps audiences guessing. But ultimately the suspense falls flat to unsatisfying results due to characters' actions.

Narratively, the film distracts the viewer from the ambience in multiple scenes. Why bother showing a casino employee sobbing at the bar and asking if she's OK when audiences never see her again? It's a waste of run time when it doesn't contribute anything to the plot.

Actors are more talented than this

Speaking of the screenplay, some lines are winners – others not so much. It's clear in films when actors work with the script in the best way they can, and this is certainly the case with Isaac, Haddish, Sheridan and Dafoe. They each have a standout scene that showcases their talent. But in one memorable scene isn't enough.

This is an extremely talented cast with plenty of astounding credits to their names, but their delivery and acting felt as clunky as a grade-school performance.

When the mystery isn't enough

Tell is a mysterious character, and Isaac plays it well. But viewers don't discover his direct motives and origin stories until halfway through the movie. By then, it's easy to disconnect with the focal point of the movie.

The cinematography choices also try to blur lines between what's fact and what's fiction. Whenever the film flashbacks to Tell's time as an interrogator, a 360-degree camera is used to show how distorted the memory is. Though the attempt is appreciated, it's so distracting to see the actors squished in the camera's lens.

"The Card Counter" could've been an interesting revenge thriller, but viewers are better off leaving the chips off the table.

Score: 2/10

"The Card Counter" premieres in theaters Friday, September 10.

Follow the reporter on Twitter at @s_incorvaia.

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First things first I do not agree with people getting so caught up in the specific theology of a song that they forget who they are singing the song to. I normally don't pay attention to negative things that people say about worship music, but the things that people were saying caught my attention. For example, that the song was not biblical and should not be sung in churches. Worship was created to glorify God, and not to argue over what kind of theology the artist used to write the song. I was not made aware of the controversy surrounding the popular song "Reckless Love" by Cory Asbury until about a week ago, but now that I am aware this is what I have concluded.The controversy surrounding the song is how the term reckless is used to describe God's love. This is the statement that Cory Asbury released after many people questioned his theology regarding his lyrics. I think that by trying to clarify what the song was saying he added to the confusion behind the controversy.This is what he had to say,
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Some people are arguing that song is biblical because it makes reference to the scripture from Matthew 28:12-14 and Luke 15. Both of these scriptures talk about the parable of the lost sheep and the shepherd. The shepherd symbolizes God and the lost sheep are people that do not have a relationship with God. On the other hand some people are arguing that using the term reckless, referring to God's character is heretical and not biblical. I found two articles that discuss the controversy about the song.The first article is called, "Reckless Love" By Cory Asbury - "Song Meaning, Review, and Worship Leading Tips." The writer of the article, Jake Gosselin argues that people are "Making a mountain out of a molehill" and that the argument is foolish. The second article, "God's Love is not Reckless, Contrary to What You Might Sing" by author Andrew Gabriel argues that using the term reckless is irresponsible and that you cannot separate Gods character traits from God himself. For example, saying that God's love is reckless could also be argued that God himself is reckless. Reckless is typically not a word that someone would use to describe God and his love for us. The term reckless is defined as (of a person or their actions) without thinking or caring about the consequences of an action. However, Cory Asbury is not talking about a person, he is talking about God's passionate and relentless pursuit of the lost. While I would not have chosen the word reckless, I understand what he was trying to communicate through the song. Down below I have linked two articles that might be helpful if you are interested in reading more about the controversy.


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