Writer-director Paul Schrader has made an intense, rigid, fiercely personal drama that may seem out of place to some modern moviegoers but reaffirms the artistry of cinema. Certainly, The Card Counter (like Schrader's previous First Reformed) will be a hard sell, especially to viewers who aren't familiar with the director's hero, French filmmaker Robert Bresson (1901–1999), whom he's emulating here. In films like A Man Escaped and Pickpocket, Bresson used an austere style with very little animation in his cast's performances (he referred to actors as "models") as a way to uncover deeper meanings in his images. Schrader succeeds beautifully in ahdering to this method, even if, for some, his work will be hard to decipher. It may not always make emotional sense for the characters to do what they're doing, for example, but it works symbolically.
In addition to The Card Counter's many strikingly considered and composed shots of hotels and gambling rooms, Schrader creates other haunting images that are carefully layered in. There's the hotel room eerily covered in white sheets, the garden of lights that Will and La Linda wander through one night, the red-white-and-blue-clad gambler who chants "U.S.A.!" every time he wins, and especially the horrific, deliberately nightmarish scenes of Abu Ghraib, shot with a special lens that makes everything feel rolling and off-kilter. The final image in The Card Counter, both uncomfortable and beautiful, will send viewers out into the world knowing that they've really seen something.