The Card Counter

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The Card Counter
The Card Counter (2021) film poster.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed byPaul Schrader
Written byPaul Schrader
Produced by
CinematographyAlexander Dynan
Edited byBenjamin Rodriguez Jr.
Music by
  • Saturn Streaming
  • Astrakan Films AB
  • RedLine Entertainment
  • LB Entertainment
  • Enriched Media Group
  • One Two Twenty Entertainment
Distributed byFocus Features
Release dates
  • September 2, 2021 (2021-09-02) (Venice)
  • September 10, 2021 (2021-09-10) (United States)
Running time
112 minutes[1]
CountryUnited States
Box office$5 million[2]

The Card Counter is a 2021 American crime drama film written and directed by Paul Schrader. It stars Oscar Isaac, Tiffany Haddish, Tye Sheridan, and Willem Dafoe. Martin Scorsese is an executive producer.

It had its world premiere at the 78th Venice International Film Festival on September 2, 2021.[3] It was released on September 10, 2021, by Focus Features.


William Tell is a gambler who taught himself how to count cards during an eight-year stint in military prison. Seeking to avoid attention – either fame or casino bouncers – Tell's gambling philosophy is to bet small and win modestly. Despite gambling nearly every day, he never stays in a casino hotel. He lives out of two small suitcases and stays in motels, where he removes any decor and covers all the furniture in plain sheets secured with twine. At a casino, Tell encounters La Linda, an acquaintance from the gambling world. She runs a stable, a group of investors who back gamblers for a portion of their winnings. She offers to stake William but he refuses, unwilling to be burdened by the responsibility.

In Atlantic City, a security-industry convention is being held in the same building as the casino. Tell slips into a seminar held by retired Major John Gordo, but decides to leave almost immediately. On the way out, he is recognized and confronted by a young man, Cirk Baufort, who slips him his name and number. After a nightmare about torture in a prison camp, Tell calls the young man and agrees to meet. Cirk informs Tell he knows who he really is: PFC William Tillich, a soldier who was tried and convicted for his role in the Abu Ghraib torture and prisoner abuse. Cirk explains that his father, Roger Baufort, was also at Abu Ghraib; like Tell, he was dishonorably discharged and served time, but the experience led him to drug addiction and made him violently abusive. Cirk's mother left the family, and Roger eventually killed himself. Gordo was the superior of Tillich and the elder Baufort and trained them in "enhanced interrogation techniques" but as he was involved as a "civilian consultant" avoided facing any charges or culpability. Cirk holds Gordo responsible for what happened to his family and is planning to capture, torture and kill him for revenge and seeks Tell's help. Tell refuses but offers to take Cirk along as he gambles in an attempt to help the young man avoid a violent life.

At their next stop, Tell informs La Linda that he is interested in making an arrangement. He reveals to her his desire to go on the World Series of Poker (WSOP) tour in order to win enough money to help Cirk cover his debts and start a new life, after which Tell will retire. After early WSOP matches, Tell makes money but loses to Mr. USA, an obnoxious Ukrainian player who has taken on a jingoistic American persona. He bonds with Cirk and feels a growing attraction to La Linda but avoids getting too close as he continues making money gambling.

At a qualifying round in Panama City, Cirk shares that he still plans to kill Gordo. Tell takes Cirk back to his motel, confronting the younger man with a harsh interrogator persona. He presents Cirk with $150,000 from his gambling winnings, enough for Cirk to pay off his and his mother's debts and return to college. He insists Cirk return to his mother in Oregon and forget about Gordo, threatening violence if he does not comply; Cirk leaves with the money. Tell, who has begun a relationship with La Linda, advances to the final table of the WSOP. While on a break he receives a message from Cirk, revealing that rather than returning home he went to Gordo's house to kill him. Tell is unsettled during the resumed match and abruptly walks off the casino floor. A news report shows that Gordo had killed an armed home intruder, presumably Cirk.

Tell drives through the night to get to Gordo's house, covering the furniture as he does in his motel rooms. Gordo returns home and Tell holds him at gunpoint, revealing who he is and why he is there. Rather than shooting him, Tell takes Gordo into another room for a "dramatic reenactment" of their time in Abu Ghraib. Both men are heard screaming in agony and eventually Tell emerges from the room severely wounded and covered in blood. He calls the police to report a homicide. Tell is incarcerated in the same military prison as before, accepting the routine and ascetic setting as he feels it is what he deserves. La Linda arrives for a visit and the two reach out to each other, each placing a single finger on the glass separating them.



Paul Schrader in 2018, the writer and director of the film

It was announced in October 2019 that Oscar Isaac had been cast in the film, written and directed by Paul Schrader.[4] In January 2020, Schrader announced that Tye Sheridan, Tiffany Haddish and Willem Dafoe had been added to the cast.[5]

Filming began in Biloxi, Mississippi, on February 24, 2020.[6][7] On March 16, 2020, production on the film was paused after an actor with a small role who had flown in from Los Angeles tested positive for COVID-19 during the pandemic.[8] Production on the film resumed on July 6, 2020,[9] and concluded 6 days later on July 12, 2020.[10]

William's explanation of card counting was taken directly, almost verbatim, from the Wired YouTube video "Blackjack Expert Explains How Card Counting Works".[11]


In July 2020, Focus Features acquired U.S. distribution rights to the film.[12] The film premiered at the Venice Film Festival on September 2, 2021, and was given a wide release on September 10, 2021.[13]


Box office[edit]

In the United States and Canada the film was released alongside Malignant and Show Me the Father.[14] It grossed $1,039,580 during its opening weekend, and $2,657,850 in total domestically and $2,394,691 internationally for a worldwide gross of $5,052,541.[2][15]

Critical response[edit]

On Rotten Tomatoes, the film has an approval rating of 87% based on 221 reviews, with an average rating of 7.5/10. The website's critical consensus reads, "Led by Oscar Isaac's gripping performance, The Card Counter adds another weighty chapter to Paul Schrader's long inquiry into man's moral responsibility."[16] On Metacritic, the film has a weighted average score of 77 out of 100, based on 48 critics, indicating "generally favorable reviews".[17]

Reviewing the film for the Chicago Sun-Times, critic Richard Roeper gave The Card Counter four stars, labeling it as "searing," "stunning" and praising Oscar Isaac's performance as "magnetic" in what Roeper called "one of the best films of the year."[18]

David Rooney also gave the film a positive review for The Hollywood Reporter, calling it a "bruising character study" and, although noting some moments of slack storytelling, praised the film as a "highly controlled piece of filmmaking with an unerring command of tone" and Isaac as a "remarkably compelling force."[19] For The Atlantic, David Sims also praised the film as a compelling, impressive character study with larger implications as a metaphor for "America's struggle to overcome its grimmest failures."[20]

In a three-star review for The Washington Post, Ann Hornaday had a mixed response to the film and criticized it for being occasionally perfunctory and tedious, overly schematic and missing polish. However, she commended the film for its "haunting power" and praised the acting, calling Isaac "mesmerizing."[21]

The Card Counter was included on a number of year-end critic best of lists,[22][23] including Time,[24] — which also named Isaac's performance as one of the top 10 of the year,[25] The New Yorker,[26],[27] IndieWire,[28] The A.V. Club,[29] and Cahiers du Cinéma[30] included the film as one of the best of 2021.


Award Date of ceremony Category Recipient(s) Result Ref.
Hollywood Music in Media Awards November 17, 2021 Best Original Score in an Independent Film Robert Levon Been & Giancarlo Vulcano Nominated [31]
Gotham Awards November 29, 2021 Best Screenplay Paul Schrader Nominated [32]
Outstanding Lead Performance Oscar Isaac Nominated
National Board of Review December 2, 2021 Top 10 Independent Films The Card Counter Won [33]
Detroit Film Critics Society December 6, 2021 Best Actor Oscar Isaac Nominated [34]
Chicago Film Critics Association December 15, 2021 Best Original Screenplay Paul Schrader Nominated [35]
Florida Film Critics Circle Awards December 22, 2021 Best Actor Oscar Isaac Nominated [36]
Dublin Film Critics' Circle December 21, 2021 Best Actor 3rd place [37]
London Film Critics' Circle February 6, 2022 Actor of the Year Nominated [38]


  1. ^ "The Card Counter". Venice Film Festival. July 16, 2021. Retrieved July 27, 2021.
  2. ^ a b "The Card Counter (2021)". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved July 15, 2022.
  3. ^ Vivarelli, Nick (July 26, 2021). "Venice Film Festival Full Lineup Unveiled – Live Updates". Variety. Retrieved July 26, 2021.
  4. ^ Grater, Tom (October 29, 2019). "Oscar Isaac Boards Paul Schrader Revenge Thriller 'The Card Counter' – AFM". Deadline Hollywood.
  5. ^ "Paul Schrader Chooses His Own 'First Reformed' As The Best Film Of The Past Decade".
  6. ^ Dale, Austin (January 29, 2020). "The Metrograph Interview: Paul Schrader". Metrograph.
  7. ^ "'The Card Counter' Starring Tiffany Haddish is Now Hiring Actors". Project Casting. March 3, 2020. Retrieved March 3, 2020.
  8. ^ Fleming, Mike Jr. (March 16, 2020). "Paul Schrader's 'The Card Counter' Shutters Five Days From Finish Over A Positive Coronavirus Test". Deadline Hollywood. Retrieved March 16, 2020.
  9. ^ Grater, Tom (June 18, 2020). "Watch: Paul Schrader & Oscar Isaac Talk New Pic 'The Card Counter', Why They Love "Handmade Movies" & Playing Quarantine Poker". Deadline Hollywood. Retrieved June 18, 2020.
  10. ^ Grater, Tom (July 13, 2020). "Paul Schrader Wraps 'The Card Counter' After COVID-Safe Shoot In Mississippi". Deadline Hollywood. Retrieved July 13, 2020.
  11. ^ Blackjack Expert Explains How Card Counting Works. Wired. Retrieved January 1, 2022 – via YouTube.
  12. ^ Lang, Brent; Keslassy, Elsa (July 13, 2020). "Paul Schrader's 'The Card Counter' Sells to Focus Features (EXCLUSIVE)". Variety. Retrieved July 13, 2020.
  13. ^ Rubin, Rebecca (May 13, 2021). "Paul Schrader's Crime Drama 'The Card Counter' With Oscar Isaac Sets Fall Release Date". Variety. Retrieved May 13, 2021.
  14. ^ Mendelsohn, Sam (September 9, 2021). "James Wan's 'Malignant' No Match For 'Shang-Chi". Box Office Mojo.
  15. ^ "The Card Counter (2021)". The Numbers. Retrieved October 7, 2021.
  16. ^ "The Card Counter". Rotten Tomatoes. Fandango Media. Retrieved October 28, 2022.
  17. ^ "The Card Counter Reviews". Metacritic. Red Ventures. Retrieved February 23, 2022.
  18. ^ Roeper, Richard (September 8, 2021). "'The Card Counter': In One of the Year's Best Films, Oscar Isaac Plays a Gambler Who Knows When to Walk Away". Chicago Sun Times. Retrieved September 8, 2021.
  19. ^ Rooney, David (September 2, 2021). "'Oscar Isaac in Paul Schrader's The Card Counter: Film Review". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved September 8, 2021.
  20. ^ Sims, David (September 12, 2021). "'A Film That Draws You Into a Frightening—And Compelling—Psyche". The Atlantic. Retrieved September 12, 2021.
  21. ^ Hornaday, Ann (September 8, 2021). "'With 'The Card Counter,' Paul Schrader has, once again, crafted a haunting portrait of alienation". The Washington Post. Retrieved September 12, 2021.
  22. ^ "Best of 2021: Film Critic Top Ten Lists". Metacritic.
  23. ^ "'Year End Lists: The Card Counter". Year-End Lists. Retrieved December 22, 2021.
  24. ^ Zacharek, Stephanie (December 7, 2021). "'The 10 Best Movies of 2021". Time. Retrieved December 22, 2021.
  25. ^ Zacharek, Stephanie (December 14, 2021). "'The 10 Best Movie Performances of 2021". TIME. Retrieved December 22, 2021.
  26. ^ Brody, Richard (December 2, 2021). "'The 10 Best Movies of 2021". The New Yorker. Retrieved December 22, 2021.
  27. ^ "'The Ten Best Fims of 2021". Roger Ebert. December 14, 2021. Retrieved December 22, 2021.
  28. ^ Ehrlich, David (December 2, 2021). "'The 25 Best Movies of 2021". IndieWire. Retrieved December 22, 2021.
  29. ^ "'The Best Films of 2021". The A.V. Club. December 21, 2021. Retrieved December 22, 2021.
  30. ^ "Top 10 2021 de la rédaction des Cahiers du cinéma". Cahiers du Cinéma. November 28, 2021. Retrieved December 22, 2021 – via Twitter.
  31. ^ Grein, Paul (November 4, 2021). "Ariana Grande, Beyonce & More Vie for Hollywood Music in Media Awards: Complete Film Nominations List". Billboard. Retrieved November 4, 2021.
  32. ^ Song, Katie (November 29, 2021). "Gotham Awards 2021 Full Winners List". Variety. Retrieved December 22, 2021.
  33. ^ "'National Board of Review Announces 2021 Award Winners". National Board of Review. December 2, 2021. Retrieved December 22, 2021.
  34. ^ "'The 2021 Detroit Film Critics Society Awards". Detroit Film Critics Society. December 6, 2021. Retrieved December 22, 2021.
  35. ^ Tallerico, Brian (December 13, 2021). "'West Side Story Leads the 2021 Chicago Critics Nominees". Roger Ebert. Retrieved December 22, 2021.
  36. ^ Neglia, Matt (December 15, 2021). "'The Florida Film Critics Circle (FCCC) Nominations". Next Best Picture. Retrieved December 22, 2021.
  37. ^ Neglia, Matt (December 21, 2021). "The 2021 Dublin Film Critics Circle (DFCC) Winners". Next Best Picture. Retrieved December 22, 2021.
  38. ^ Yossman, K.J. (December 16, 2021). "'Female Filmmakers Shine at London Critics' Circle Film Awards With Nominations for Jane Campion, Maggie Gyllenhaal and Joanna Hogg". Variety. Retrieved December 22, 2021.

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