I don’t usually post movie reviews, but in this case I feel I owe it to my poker playing readers.
“A total mess that will make any poker player cringe.”
Just watched The Card Counter with my wife. She was the one who wanted to watch. It was terrible. Really, completely awful — and not just the casino/poker scenes. Start with the fact that Counting Cards is a blackjack concept, and the lead character (Bill) starts out at a casino playing blackjack, content to post modest wins and move on to the next casino. He learned to count cards while spending 8 years in a military prison after being convicted of participating on atrocities at Abu Grabe that including torturing detainees. This leads to the “main” plot, where he tries to talk his young traveling companion from a plot to murder the “general” who was the mastermind behind the torture program (Willem DeFoe). That plot falls flat, but along the way Bill turns to poker (because being an expert card counter and crushing casino blackjack necessarily means you are also a poker expert), and is befriended by llinda (yes, two “l”s), played by Tiffany Haddish, who offers to set him up with a stake and send him out on the WSOP circuit tour (because he’s a pro and she likes him.)
The poker representations here are terrible. I’m not sure who the poker consultant was, but they should be ashamed. The producers bought the rights to use the WSOP logos, but didn’t do anything fun with them. The casino venues for the poker were dim and crowded, the play was slow and mostly stale, and the “villain” is a Ukranian player who comes with an entourage dressed in red-white-and-blue chanting U-S-A who wins every tournament. There are no interesting hands, except one that Bill describes to his companion as the craziest hand he ever saw. It was pretty crazy, but so what? It was just a bad beat story.
At the end, Bill is down to the final 3 players in a WSOP circuit live event when he decides to get up and walk away in order to go find his companion. Yes, a bit of a spoiler, but I will not tell you what happens — only that Bill doesn’t really care about the poker. We then get a peek-back to the table, where Bill’s chips are being blinded down. Spellbinding!
There are a million little errors in the film, including the complete lack of explanation for why Bill wraps up all the furniture in his hotel room with white sheets. (WTF?) It’s a mess. Nothing to recommend it. THe core plot about wanting to kill the man who made him (and his companion’s father) into a monster and sent him off to military prison while the general walked away into private consulting and lived a comfortable life, has some appeal. There’s a revenge plot there. And if being a poker pro is the cover that allows Bill to execute his master plan while playing a tournament nearby, that would be a film. This, however, was not that film. Ugh. Please skip it. You will tear your hair out.