Oscar Isaac is William Tell who lives in a dark place stored in his mind from memories of the Abu Ghraib Prison located 32 Kilometers from Bagdad where captives were mistreated by American military.
The film opens with a voice over from Isaac in which he explains he is in Leavenworth the US military prison in Kansas. Having become comfortable with the scheduled orderly lifestyle of prison. That gives us early insight as to the conclusion of the story.
Tell is a card counter a skill he learned and perfected while in Leavenworth. His voice over explains how to win at black jack by counting cards and how to remain under the radar of the casino owners by not attempting to win too much, just enough.
Flash backs to the torture at Abu Ghraib display the battering and beating of the enemy soldiers through many techniques which are selected to make the enemy’s tell what they know about where their forces are located.
The dark time of the Abu Ghraib experience has etched deeply in his existence particularly when those who carried out the actual torture were punished by the US military and not the higher ups who directed the program.
Tell’s world is open somewhat when he meets Cirk (Tye Sheridan) who we learn has a connection to the brutal activity in the Bagdad prison. Cirk’s father suffered from the effects of his actions and lost his life. Cirk wants revenge on Gordo (Willem Dafoe) a leader in the prison who he blames for the loss of his father.
Through complications of Cirk’s family, particularly his mother, Tell undertakes a plan to ease the pain on the young Cirk a move him away from the dark place which motivates him.
Tiffany doesn’t quite fit into the plot, she is a player who attempts to bring Tell to the world series of poker with the backing of sponsors. The relationship between the two is not convincing.
The climax is as dark as the earlier scenes remembered by Tell and we are left to accept a silly connection between Haddish and Isaac.
The Card Counter is less about the excitement of winning at cards. Even with some performances that are effective, watching The Card Counter is not an enjoyable experience at any level.