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Starring: Oscar Isaac, Tye Sheridan, Tiffany Haddish, Willem Dafoe
OUR RATING: ★★★½
Crime drama written and directed by Paul Schrader. The Card Counter (2021) centers on William Tell (Oscar Isaac), an ex-military interrogator turned gambler who’s life is shattered when he is approached by Cirk (Tye Sheridan), a young man seeking help to execute his plan for revenge on a mutual enemy from their past, Major John Gordo (Willem Dafoe). Gaining backing from gambling financier La Linda (Tiffany Haddish), Tell takes Cirk with him on the road, going from casino to casino until the trio set their sights on winning the World Series of Poker in Las Vegas. However, things get difficult when Tell realizes that trying to keep Cirk on the right path proves to be an impossible task as he gets dragged back into the darkness of his past.
Our Favorite Quotes:
William Tell: I never imagined myself as someone suited to a life of incarceration. As a boy, I was afraid of confined spaces. I feared elevators. When I was old enough, I just wanted to get in the car, roll the windows, and drive, drive, drive wherever my eyes would take me. I was an American kid. Confinement of any kind was terrifying to me. So, to my surprise, having been sentenced to ten years in prison, I found I adjusted quite well.
William Tell: I liked the routine. I liked the regimen. Same activities, same time, every day. The same toothbrush, the same clothes, same toilet. Same stale sweat, stale smoke, stale bodies, stale cooking, stale farts. Same conversations. The faces change, but not much. No choice. I found that I liked reading books. I’d never read a book before, not all the way through. I found a life for myself that had been beyond my imagination.
William Tell: It was in prison I learned to count cards. What separates blackjack from other games is that it’s based on dependent events, meaning past affects the probability in the future.
William Tell: Not so long, Slippery Joe.
Slippery Joe: No, they don’t call me that no more. What are they calling you?
William Tell: Do you have a suggestion?
La Linda: I’ve watched you play. You count cards, right?
William Tell: I’m not that smart.
La Linda: But you win, so you count cards.
William Tell: The house doesn’t mind players who count cards. They don’t even mind players who count cards and win. What they don’t like are players who count cards and win big. It’s about how much you win, and how you win it. And I stick to modest goals.
La Linda: You can get someone to stake you, an MTT, make seven million payout.
William Tell: That’s what you do, you run a stable.
La Linda: I’m always looking for a good thoroughbred. I can get someone to back you one hundred percent, on my word.
William Tell: I prefer to work under the radar.
La Linda: I thought you were a gambler.
La Linda: So, Bill, you ever been to prison?
William Tell: Why would you say that?
La Linda: I can tell when someone’s been inside. It’s a gift I have.
La Linda: If you don’t play for money, why do you play at all?
William Tell: It passes the time.
La Linda: So, Bill, why don’t you pass some time with me? Let’s play poker.
William Tell: In poker, the player does not play against the house. He plays against other players. The house takes a cut. Two things are necessary, knowledge of the mathematical odds, knowledge of your opponents.
William Tell: Poker is all about waiting. Hours pass. Days pass. Hand after hand, each hand like the hand before. Then something happens.
William Tell: There’s a weight a gambler can accrue by accepting financial backing. It’s like any weight a person in debt accrues. It builds and builds, has a life of its own. There also is a moral weight a man can accrue. This is the weight created by his past actions. It is a weight which can never be removed.
Cirk: [to William] You know, when I recognized you at John Gordo’s seminar, I recognized you instantly. I thought to myself, “Here’s a man who might want a piece of what I’m going to do.”
William Tell: This is how it starts. Just a fleeting thought. A daydream. Then it builds, and builds.
'We are each responsible for our own actions.' - Gordo (The Card Counter) Click To Tweet
William Tell: And what is that?
Cirk: [referring to Gordo] Capture him, torture him, and kill him. They made you the fall guy.
Cirk: They put you in hell. Then they blamed you for it. You got the barracks at Leavenworth, and Gordo got R and R in Kuwait.
William Tell: Cirk, you need to back off. I’ve spent a lot of time thinking the exact same thoughts you’re thinking right now. They eat you up.
Cirk: Are you going to tell on me?
William Tell: No. I’m not. It’s your life.
William Tell: [over phone] Cirk with a C? It’s Bill Tell. You want to ride with me? I’m a card player. I go from city to city, casino to casino, card room to card room. It gets lonely. I’d like some company. I’ll cover the costs.
William Tell: [referring to the heavy metal music] Turn that s**t off.
Cirk: Who are you? God?
William Tell: If you’d ever actually been there, you’d never want to hear that s**t again in your life.
Cirk: So, where are we going? You never told me.
William Tell: You never asked.
William Tell: [referring to Cirk] Who is this insolent little pr**k?
William Tell: How much debt you got?
Cirk: Some. A lot.
William Tell: Do you have any interests?
Cirk: What do you mean?
William Tell: Interests, like anything you want to do, an occupation, a business.
Cirk: I got interests.
'Is there an end to punishment? Is there a limit to the amount of effort it takes to merit expiation? Is it possible to know when one reaches the limit?' - William Tell (The Card Counter) Click To Tweet
William Tell: Well, I may want to build up a nest egg, and to do that, I need a backer.
La Linda: Well, that’s a dramatic turn.
William Tell: You woke something in me. I don’t know. It’s the Kid. He needs help.
La Linda: And money will do that?
William Tell: He’s got debts.
William Tell: I build my nest egg, I bail. One year max, then I’m out.
La Linda: I wish I could believe that.
William Tell: Believe.
La Linda: I’m too old for this.
William Tell: [to Cirk] So this plan you have about Major John Gordo, you given it more thought? He’s all nails. You’re not. He’s right out of f***ing Call of Duty.
William Tell: This isn’t very well thought out.
Cirk: And that’s why I need a partner. Somebody with experience, somebody with expertise. And motive. A strong guy. A guy like you.
William Tell: [referring to Cirk’s father] He beat you.
Cirk: That’s in the past.
William Tell: The body remembers. It stores it all.