The Card Counter

The Card Counter ★★★★

“The Hustler” was the film that taught American ambition the essentiality of failure. 

“The Card Counter” begins in American failure, and seeks to teach how that can develop into stoicism. 

It’s Rossen by way of Bresson. 

Much as Quentin Tarantino has spent his career remaking a slate of 70s grindhouse and exploitation flicks, and Christopher Nolan has passed his remaking works of Michael Mann (specifically “Heat”), so Paul Schrader has occupied himself with variations on the theme of Robert Bresson.

Some of these - such as “Taxi Driver’s” direct riff off “Diary of a Country Priest,” are more obvious to spot in their directness. 

It’s as if you could say… someone across the room could spot Schrader counting the cards dealt by Bresson. 

“Card Counter” shuffles in a bit of “Pickpocket,” some of “A Man Escaped,” and (again) plenty of “Country Priest.” And just as Schrader is sure to explain to us at the outset of the film, counting cards - within a reasonable margin - is indeed permitted. 

So, if Schrader can so tactfully count Bresson’s deck… let him. 

The choice by Schrader to mix in callbacks overt and otherwise to American masterpiece “The Hustler” makes his game all the more intriguing. 

Bresson’s characters (or rather, models) began generally from places of utmost concentration, and used that for their eventual spiritual liberation. 

Schrader sees that same ideal of concentration appropriated by capitalism and the military complex. The liberation it brings, then, is tainted. Corrupt. 

A bit… like the act of counting cards. And, still, just as much allowed.

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