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Parents' Guide to

The Card Counter

By Jeffrey M. Anderson, Common Sense Media Reviewer

age 15+

Powerful, intensely personal drama has strong violence.

Movie R 2021 109 minutes
The Card Counter Poster Image

A Lot or a Little?

What you will—and won't—find in this movie.

Community Reviews

age 14+

Based on 3 parent reviews

age 15+

Mesmerizing performances

Mesmerizing performances...a steady heartbeat in the screenplay...the performers did not come to play but feel like all are being played.You feel an ominous twist is about to come out at you at every turn, but maybe it's how wound up Isaac's character is. PTSD and how we decide to live our lives is how this film attempts to deal with why some choose to sleepwalk through life dominated by rules in order to offer some order in a world that is absurdly violent and cruel. There do not seem to be answers, just sighs and resignation.
age 16+

Moral ambiguity narrative

I would not recommend this movie to any young people who do not have parents or safe adults that they can have an honest conversation with, to talk about the messages from the movie and the moral implications. The movie is a lesson in moral ambiguity and consequences that come from life choices that can't be undone. For younger ones, it's a cautionary tale. For older ones, it's a test of how much we are willing to normalise violence, of any kind. For me it's a reminder that violence only produces more violence, it never ends it. For violence to end, some person(s) have to take the opportunity away. Bill Tell tried. . . Moral ambiguity is usually the narrative attached to war and politics in Hollywood movies. There is a moral question in this movie, is the apple bad or is the barrell bad? Who has a good excuse and who doesn't? Is individual responsibility necessary, even in the military? Where is the line? Do the choices we make as individuals have anything to do with it? I got a sense that the movie was trying to make me sympathise with people who live in the grey, represented by Bill Tell and Cirk's father. Gambling and violence are effective grey areas, it can be a proven method for destroying lives, but its also entertainment and self defence. Another moral ambiguity thing. It's important for young people to know that there is hope for absolutely everyone, but what we accept by either passive or active choice makes a difference and some things can never be undone.

Is It Any Good?

Our review:
Parents say: (3 ):
Kids say: Not yet rated

Writer-director Paul Schrader has made an intense, rigid, fiercely personal drama that may seem out of place to some modern moviegoers but reaffirms the artistry of cinema. Certainly, The Card Counter (like Schrader's previous First Reformed) will be a hard sell, especially to viewers who aren't familiar with the director's hero, French filmmaker Robert Bresson (1901–1999), whom he's emulating here. In films like A Man Escaped and Pickpocket, Bresson used an austere style with very little animation in his cast's performances (he referred to actors as "models") as a way to uncover deeper meanings in his images. Schrader succeeds beautifully in ahdering to this method, even if, for some, his work will be hard to decipher. It may not always make emotional sense for the characters to do what they're doing, for example, but it works symbolically.

In addition to The Card Counter's many strikingly considered and composed shots of hotels and gambling rooms, Schrader creates other haunting images that are carefully layered in. There's the hotel room eerily covered in white sheets, the garden of lights that Will and La Linda wander through one night, the red-white-and-blue-clad gambler who chants "U.S.A.!" every time he wins, and especially the horrific, deliberately nightmarish scenes of Abu Ghraib, shot with a special lens that makes everything feel rolling and off-kilter. The final image in The Card Counter, both uncomfortable and beautiful, will send viewers out into the world knowing that they've really seen something.

Movie Details

  • In theaters: September 10, 2021
  • On DVD or streaming: September 30, 2021
  • Cast: Oscar Isaac , Tye Sheridan , Tiffany Haddish
  • Director: Paul Schrader
  • Inclusion Information: Latino actors, Female actors, Black actors
  • Studio: Focus Features
  • Genre: Drama
  • Run time: 109 minutes
  • MPAA rating: R
  • MPAA explanation: some disturbing violence, graphic nudity, language and brief sexuality
  • Last updated: September 17, 2023

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