Editor’s Note: Deadline’s Read the Screenplay series makes its debut and celebrates the movie scripts that will be factors in this year’s movie prize race.
âOver the years I’ve developed my own genre of movies, and they usually involve a single man in a room wearing a mask, and the mask is his occupation,â said The card counter filmmaker Paul Schrader, whose distinctive work includes classics of American cinema featuring tormented central figures within Taxi Driver, Raging Bull, American Gigolo, Light Sleeper and First reformed, the latter having earned Schrader his first Oscar nomination.
“I’m taking that character and directing it next to a bigger issue, personal or social,” Schrader explained, detailing how gamer nomad William Tell, the main character of The card counter interpreted by Oscar Isaac, corresponds to the mold of the filmmaker. In this case, Tell is serving a self-imposed penance motivated by overwhelming guilt.
“What if someone’s done something they can’t forgive themselves?” Schrader asks. âAlthough society has forgiven him, he has not forgiven himself. He did a terrible thing, and now he’s living in a kind of purgatory. How does he work there? The story of the film gradually reveals Tell’s ancient military history and the backstory that continues to haunt him as he drifts aimlessly across the land.
âThere is a connection between the World Series of Poker and Abu Ghraib,â said Schrader. âI wondered what he could have done in his life that was so blatant that he just couldn’t get over his crimes. Even serial killers can forgive themselves, but what if he had done something that stigmatized his own country?
âI had to find a job for someone who waits, and who lives a kind of non-existence. The game seemed like the perfect middle, âSchrader revealed. “He exists in this limbo, traveling from casino to casino, playing cards, waiting for something to happen.”
Tell’s perpetually useless journey is cut short when he finds himself embroiled in two lonely companions (Tye Sheridan and Tiffany Haddish) who unexpectedly re-engage him with the world, setting him on a new path that could lead to redemption. or to ruin.
âMy goal is to create a crack in the viewer’s skull, opening a wedge between what they want and expect from my characters and how they feel after spending time with them,â Schrader said. âHow they make this adjustment is up to them, but engaging the viewer in this kind of conflict is what every artist is looking for. It’s not that important what my viewers think, but what they think.
Click below to read the script for The card counter, which hits theaters in September via Focus Features after its world premiere at the Venice Film Festival.