Oscar Isaac (left) and Tiffany Haddish star in "The Card Counter" (Photo Credit: Courtesy of Focus Features).
If moviegoers expect to see a modern day “21” with the new film “The Card Counter,” think again.
However, if moviegoers want to see intriguing and mysterious characters with very solid performances, then they can count on “The Card Counter.”
Thanks to the mystery and intrigue of Oscar Isaac’s performance and Tiffany Haddish spreading her wings and showing her dramatic acting chops, “The Card Counter” succeeds despite slow and dry moments that seem to drag before it gets to the twists and turns.
While 2008’s “21” represented greed as a group of MIT students, with the help of their casino-banned professor, took Las Vegas casinos for millions, “The Card Counter” represents the hustler who chooses to stay below the radar to avoid suspicion and detection, while slowly raking in a decent amount of money.
In “The Card Counter,” William Tell (Isaac, “Ex Machina”) is like the wealthy drug dealer who has not appeared on police radar yet because he lives a modest life.
He does not flaunt his wealth with expensive cars, a lavish lifestyle and flashy jewelry.
Instead, the hustler who avoids capture often appears like a regular Joe even if their felonious capers have netted them hundreds of thousands of dollars, if not millions.
William has mastered the art of counting cards, whether playing blackjack or poker.
But he always gets away with his scheme because he never gambles enough to capture the attention of casino security.
In fact, William believes that casinos are O.K. with gamblers counting cards if they do not take the casino for a significant amount of money.
Not trying to make an exorbitant amount of money makes William an outcast in a hustle that attracts the most flamboyant of people.
William does not even like sleeping in casino hotels, opting instead for cheap motels where he covers the furniture with his own linens as if not to touch the things that the riff raff has used.
In “The Card Counter,” William has even gotten to know fellow gamblers like La Linda (Haddish, “Girls Trip”) because of the number of times they have competed against each other in casinos across the country.
But despite all the colorful characters that William has met along the way, none has convinced him to change his frugal ways and play for the big bucks by getting sponsors to support his gambling endeavors.
All that changes when he meets a young man named Cirk (Tye Sheridan, “Ready Player One”).
While at a random casino hotel, William stumbles into a lecture about cybersecurity given by a public speaker named Gordo (Willem Dafoe, “Aquaman”).
Although William has never met Cirk, the young man definitely recognizes William.
Unsolicited, Cirk gives William his phone number with hopes of meeting up with him later at the hotel.
When William takes Cirk up on the offer, he still is perplexed at why the young man wants to meet with him.
Cirk lets William know that he is aware of William’s past which landed him behind bars for years.
The same dilemma that caused William to lose his freedom, led to Cirk’s mother leaving his father and his father losing his life.
Cirk is in town seeking revenge on the man that caused so much pain for his family and he wants William to assist him in his quest for retribution.
Although William seems cool, calm and collected, he has a checkered past that makes Cirk sure that he can assist him on his devious plot to get some payback.
However, when William learns of Cirk’s plot, he is determined to shed his modest gambling habit and go after the big bucks to keep Cirk on the straight and narrow and prevent him from ruining his life.
While Isaac obviously steals the show in “The Card Counter,” Haddish continuing to spread her dramatic wings is refreshing.
Known for comedic roles, Haddish has attempted to show her dramatic side before in films like “The Kitchen” and the Netflix miniseries “Self Made: Inspired by the Life of Madame C.J. Walker.”
But her performance in “The Kitchen” did not come across as believable because the comedy jacket still had her wrapped up.
But in “The Card Counter,” her dramatic performance seems more effortless.
Haddish seems more in her element as a card hustler in “The Card Counter” than she did as a cold-blooded gangster in “The Kitchen.”
She even has a love scene with Isaac, which shows another side of her acting skills as well.
In a way, Haddish’s career seems to have the same trajectory as Kevin Hart.
The diminutive Hart become a certified comedic legend.
But of late has shown his serious side in “The Upside and “Fatherhood.”
While Haddish did not have the same success in the comedy realm as Hart, her star power came somewhat close.
Now, she has proven to be Hart’s equal when it comes to dramatic films.
On the other hand, Isaac is one of the most talented actors of the 21st century.
Isaac shows an effortless cool in “The Card Counter.”
But just with the look in his eyes, moviegoers will see something darker and more sinister beneath the surface.
When Isaac does show anger in “The Card Counter,” his voice does not do all the talking.
The tears welling in his eyes shows the emotional state of his character, William.
Unfortunately, “The Card Counter” does struggle with a slow pace and a dryness that often drags the film down at times.
But thankfully, the twists and turns in “The Card Counter” makes up for those mistakes.