The Card Counter parents guide

The Card Counter Parent Guide

Despite a remarkable cast, this film is a bit of a mess.

Overall D

In Theaters: Bill Tell is a gambler who wants to live a quiet life playing cards. But when a young man asks for his help in seeking revenge on a mutual enemy, William is sucked into a real life game with very bad odds.

Release date September 10, 2021

Violence D
Sexual Content D
Profanity D
Substance Use B

Why is The Card Counter rated R? The MPAA rated The Card Counter R for some disturbing violence, graphic nudity, language and brief sexuality

Run Time: 109 minutes

Parent Movie Review

After spending eight years in military prison at Fort Leavenworth, Bill Tell (Oscar Isaac) now makes a living by travelling from casino to casino, counting cards and winning small pots at blackjack and poker. It looks like that’s how he’ll spend the rest of his life until a chance encounter with Cirk (Tye Sheridan), son of one of Bill’s military colleagues. The troubled young man has half a plan to get back at Major Gordo (Willem Dafoe), the man responsible for Bill’s time in prison – he just needs a little help figuring out the other half. But Bill has other things on his plate. He’s now participating in a major multi-city poker tournament after being signed up by pro gambling backer La Linda (Tiffany Haddish). No matter which direction Bill goes, he’s going to have to confront his dark past.

This production is certainly an ambitious project. It’s replete with themes of moral responsibility, torture, and of course, the complex and detailed intricacies of card counting and poker tournaments. If those things don’t quite sound related to you, you’d be right. And the film isn’t about to help you join the dots. I’m really not sure what to make of the film, and that confusion is only the beginning of my problems.

Despite a remarkable cast and an impressive filmography from the writer/director, Paul Schrader, and Martin Scorsese as executive producer, this movie is a bit of a mess. Dialogue is, depending on the scene, either tolerable or a pretty good substitute for lumber. The actors are clearly putting in some effort, but the outcome doesn’t always reflect that.

On the other hand, The Card Counter has won some glowing critical acclaim, so maybe I just missed something. What I didn’t miss were the scenes of brutal torture and full-frontal male nudity, so even if the rest of the film was better than I gave it credit for, this still isn’t family entertainment. There’s also a healthy dose of profanity throughout, although that does seem like pretty small potatoes next to actual state-sponsored torture.

As far as mixed bags go, this one is a little more mixed than most. For my money, I like a little more consistency and a little less nudity, but I will give the film some credit: It will make you think. Not necessarily about anything you want to think about, or about things that are in any way related, but it’ll make you think. Whether that sounds fun or not is up to you.

Directed by Paul Schrader. Starring Oscar Isaac, Willem Dafoe, Tye Sheridan. Running time: 109 minutes. Theatrical release September 10, 2021. Updated

The Card Counter
Rating & Content Info

Why is The Card Counter rated R? The Card Counter is rated R by the MPAA for some disturbing violence, graphic nudity, language and brief sexuality

Violence: There are scenes depicting extreme torture. An individual is shown with a nearly severed finger after an off-screen fight.
Sexual Content: There are scenes of male full-frontal nudity in a non-sexual context. There is one sex scene with no graphic nudity.
Profanity:  There are 13 uses of sexual expletives and 17 scatological terms. There are occasional uses of mild profanities and terms of deity.
Alcohol / Drug Use: Adult characters are seen drinking frequently.

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The Card Counter Parents' Guide

What real-life incidents at Abu Ghraib mirror those in the film? What is the policy of the United States regarding torture or so-called “enhanced interrogation”? Is torture justifiable under any circumstances? How many nations still practice torture? What does international law say about the treatment of prisoners?

The Guardian: Inside the CIA’s black site torture room

The New York Times: What John McCain Taught Us About Torture

The Washington Post: I Can’t Be Forgiven for Abu Ghraib

Human Rights Watch: The Road to Abu Ghraib

Human Rights First: Facts on Torture

Amnesty International: Torture

The New York Times: What the CIA’s Torture Program Looked Like to the Tortured

The Center for Victims of Torture: Confronting the Legacy of US Torture

CNN: CIA Torture Report Fast Facts

Foreign Affairs: The Strategic Costs of Torture

Home Video

Related home video titles:

The Report starring Adam Driver covers the real-life investigation of the development of the American torture programs. Zero Dark Thirty explores torture’s role in the eventual raid on Osama Bin Laden’s compound in Pakistan. Other films about torture include The Mauritanian, Unthinkable, and The Railway Man. Another movie which combines torture and high-stakes poker is the James Bond film Casino Royale.