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By Megan Bianco

When the trailer for Paul Schrader’s new film, The Card Counter, dropped online last month, I figured maybe this would be another “miss” in his hit-or-miss pile based on how bad the editing was.

This suspicion was reinforced by the fact that the name of Schrader’s former collaborator, Martin Scorsese, is all over the posters and TV spots as an executive producer. But to my surprise, the new movie actually has a lot of quality elements to it.

After spending nearly a decade in military prison, a reformed man, now going by “William Tell” (Oscar Isaac), makes a living gambling and counting cards all over the U.S. He generally does well, as he bets modestly so as not to lose too much money.

Photo: Courtesy of Focus Features

His professional life gets a boost when a charismatic woman in the gambling world, LaLinda (Tiffany Haddish), wants to take him on as a client for her “stable” of gamblers that she backs; as well as a young man named Cirk (Tye Sheridan), who is convinced he and William have a secret connection to each other.

Willem Dafoe makes an appearance as William’s former superior with a dark past.

The Card Counter seems like it has a simple, unexciting premise, but it has plenty to offer with direction and acting. Isaac is a natural in the lead role as the aloof gambler, but the biggest, pleasant shock in the movie is Haddish’s presence and performance.

Based on that poor trailer, I thought the actress was going to be the most out-of-place aspect of The Card Counter. But, in reality, she really proves her range and is capable of more than amusing, goofy comedies.

Along with a moody and eerily appropriate music score by Robert Levon Been, The Card Counter is an appropriately atmospheric and chilling drama to begin the autumn movie season.

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