The Card Counter

The Card Counter ★★★★★

The one non-journaling voiceover moment I liked here was Tell's meditation on forgiveness-- how forgiving yourself, and being accepted (or forgiven) by another, almost seems to merge into the same thing. Loving yourself allows you to love others; being loved by others helps you to love yourself. The two-- self-love, and selfless-love-- build on each other and need each other to survive. It's just-- the first is very hard to come by, sometimes, if you have a past. I like the dialogue between Tell and Cirk-with-a-c that, in another life, Tell used to be "something of a ladies' man."

You probably can't enjoy this movie unless you're a little generous towards it; this is Schrader with a 16-color box of crayons and a two hour time-limit to go work in the corner. His history as an artist allows him to bring in Isaac (who is remarkable here-- one of the best performances I've seen in a long time. Schrader calls it "recessive" and it is, in an unbelievably compelling way), Haddish, and Dafoe. Robert Levon Been's score is remarkable, and Schrader works with great visual confidence. He shot this thing in like a month and with not much of a budget. There are some clunkers in the script ("Who do you think you are... God?").

But goddamn, this thing actually has IDEAS. It's ABOUT something. And it goes about exploring these ideas dramatically-- with scenes, characters, dialogue, everything. A fucking movie for people who give a shit about movies, human beings, and the world at large.

Reckons with America's war crimes and the dehumanizing nature of our specific moment without resorting to nihilism. It's deeply, deeply cynical, and yet-- somehow-- humane as well. As individuals, we all-- always-- have choices. We are always free. There are always paths to reclaim our humanity, even if the world beyond us might be lost.

This is not a perfect film, but there are moments here that absolutely tower. And, honestly, I would say that it succeeds resoundingly on a dramatic level, as a work of cinema, not just a work of themes. I can absolutely see what might turn a person off about this, but I would maintain that most movies are worse than this one. They're not aiming nearly as sharply and they're not shooting nearly as straight. Schrader's late style continues to hit me right where it's supposed to.

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