Movies about gambling and casinos have been a common theme in Hollywood since the early days of film. From 1922’s ‘Dr. Mabuse The Gambler’ and the 1931 poker classic ‘Smart Money’, to modern hits like the James Bond caper ‘Casino Royale’ and 2019’s ‘Uncut Gems’, the thrill of gambling has enthralled moviegoers for nearly a century.

Over the years, many famous directors have explored the theme of gambling in films, including Paul Thomas Anderson’s first film ‘Hard Eight’, Robert Altman’s 1974 classic ‘California Split’, and of course Martin Scorsese’s iconic ‘Casino’. In 2008, the semi-biographical movie ’21’ revealed to the world the reality of Las Vegas card-counting, and Aaron Sorkin’s 2017 directorial debut ‘Molly’s Game’ explored the seedy underworld of illegal poker games.

Gambling is a surprisingly popular theme in the movie world, even amongst those who don’t gamble regularly or approve of the practice. One possible reason is that these films provide an insight into an illicit world that the viewer wouldn’t otherwise expose themselves to. Gambling has traditionally been restricted to brick-and-mortar casinos and is heavily regulated in many countries, making it difficult for average citizens to take part unless they play online at casino sister sites. For many people, their only exposure to the world of gambling and casinos is through the multitude of movies that explore the controversial topic.

Most recently, Academy Award-winning director Paul Schrader put forward his contribution to the world of gambling and casino films with “The Card Counter”. The soon-to-be-released film struggled through months of delays during 2020 as the pandemic shut down film shoots across many locations in the US. With only five days left of production, the film was halted in March 2020, when a crew member fell sick. Eventually, after almost four months of uncertainty, the remaining crew and cast managed to safely finish filming the last few sequences without incident.

With much of the deliberation and delays out of the way, Schrader completed the editing and put forward the film for release in June. Although Focus Features acquired distribution rights to the film in July last year, no specific dates for box office release have been set as restrictions continue to keep cinemas closed worldwide.

Why the hype?

Due to a stellar cast and Schrader’s accolades, “The Card Counter” was one of the most anticipated films of 2020 before production was stalled. Now, as we move into 2021, the delays have only increased the excitement surrounding the film. It features Guatemalan-American actor Oscar Isaac who featured in Ex Machina (2014) and A Most Violent Year (2014) and received a Golden Globe nomination for his starring role in the tragicomedy Inside Llewyn Davis.

In the film, Isaac plays an army veteran and gambler who is enlisted to join a young man (Tye Sheridan) in his plan for revenge on a military colonel, played by William Defoe. With help from a wealthy financier the trio embark on a gambling odyssey that eventually leads them to the World Series of Poker.

The bold and extraordinary film is described as a follow-up to one of Schrader’s earlier films, First Reformed, a 2017 drama that explores themes of religion and hope. The film, starring Ethan Hawke and Amanda Seyfried, received glowing reviews, particularly for Hawke’s groundbreaking portrayal of the embattled Reverend Ernst Toller.

“The Card Counter” takes a rather different route but keeps up with Schrader’s signature blend of suspense, drama, and acerbic wit. In order to successfully complete the production of the film despite the delays and restrictions, Schrader enlisted the help of Scorsese, the film’s executive producer and a long-time colleague of Schrader. In the past, Schrader has scripted many award-winning films for Scorsese, including Taxi Driver, Raging Bull, Bringing Out the Dead, and The Last Temptation of the Christ.

Speaking to the popular film and movie publication Deadline in June last year during the lockdown, Schrader says he and Isaac took tips from professional poker player Joe Stapleton for scenes in the movie. He also spoke about moving towards making more ‘handmade’, or indie, productions in the future – something he and Scorsese both have a love for. We look forward to that!