This review may contain spoilers. I can handle the truth.
The Lost City Of Gray’s review published on Letterboxd:
This review may contain spoilers.
Schrader's Transcendental Style thesis is mostly bullshit when it comes to linking together Bresson, Dreyer, and Ozu, but its an excellent lens to view Schrader films. The Card Counter is perhaps his most Bressonian and Dreyeresque films. It's all here. The close ups of hands. the Pickpocket ending, writing in journals, long unbroken shots, and close ups of faces (okay not quite Bressonian there, more a Dreyer expression).
But what a movie. The Card Counter reminds me of why I love movies so much. It feels like a great novel with how many hands it has on so many different subjects and ideas, yet how internalized it is into the psyche of William Tell (only Schrader can get away with making a character name this overt of a reference). Yet it's purely cinematic as well, in a way that could be described as "ugly". The lighting is this digital sheen that isn't quite the same clean style that is common, but a bit more "digitally" for lack of a better word. And I love it. I love how the shallow focus prescribed to the background looks here in contrast how it looks in other movies. I love Schrader's framing and how he lets shots live. A shot in the beginning of Isaac pulling up to a motel and getting his bags has his car leave the frame, shot still, and he emerges into the left edge of the frame bags in hand as he enters the door. I love the 70s style zooms Schrader employs. Isaac going into a monologue of William Tell's life to Tye Sheridan's character starts out in framed as a long shot, zooming in slowly as it goes on (I briefly thought Schrader was using a dolly until it became obvious that it was a zoom), zooming into Isaac's face as he breaks down quietly, but still restraining himself from out and out crying.
The camera distortions of the prison camp flashbacks are so insane. I never thought a visual could have that much of a hallucinogenic texture, like a spinning vomiting panic attack. The zoom on Isaac's twisting body and face that precedes the first flashback is a brilliant piece of filmmaking as well.
How Schrader uses sound is so good too. There's a bit where Isaac is talking to Tiffany Haddish at the bar, upset that Sheridan isn't there even as he denies it. The sound of the out of focus slot machines play, Isaac looks to the back at them, focal level not changing, before reassuming the conversation without overtly commenting on the machines, the same ones that Sheridan's character plays at in the background of his poker and blackjack games.
The Card Counter might just be the most romantic film of Schrader's, right there in the American Gigolo and Light Sleeper zone. The sequence of Isaac and Haddish in the colored tunnel, where Schrader's camera detaches and cranes around the room, across the changing lights and then orbits back to Isaac and Haddish. The cut to her locking hands with him, followed by a bird's eye shot of them exiting the field of colored lights. It's a beautiful piece of swooning cinema. It's this sequence that makes the final shot of their hands touching across glass so magnificent.