William, who's trying to distance himself from his past, wants no part of Cirk's plan and tries to dissuade him from following through. He takes the kid under his wing, letting him tag along on his casino tour. He also takes La Linda up on her invitation to join her stable, hoping to make enough on the poker circuit to help Cirk out financially and get him back in school. But that's easier said than done. As in so many of Schrader's films, dating back even to his script for Martin Scorsese's Taxi Driver, a violent end seems inevitable, no matter how much our hero tries to avoid it.
This is a superb role for Isaac, who brings his usual sly, soulful magnetism to the role of a man who plots every move with suave precision. William is always crisply dressed in a shirt, tie and leather jacket. When he moves into a new motel room, he covers every piece of furniture with plain white sheets, as if he were trying to impose extreme order on the extreme disorder of his past. But in Isaac's dark, haunted gaze we see a history of trauma that can't be purged so easily. Once young Cirk enters the picture, William sees a chance to make further amends for his sins and do some good in the world.
That world seems awfully drab in The Card Counter, a nondescript suburban wasteland that time seems to have forgotten. The America that William gave so much of his life to serve doesn't look so beautiful. But there's one exception, when La Linda takes William out one night to visit the illuminated Missouri Botanical Garden, flooding the screen with vibrant colors that accentuate the actors' dazzling rapport. As grim as things can get in Schrader's movies, he's also a romantic at heart, someone who sees in love the possibility of both risk and redemption.
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