His name is William Tell (Isaac), but there is no information. He explained aloud how he learned to count cards in prison. He once wanted to roam free, but he adapted well to the confines of the prison. (Curious.) Already homeless, he travels the country, visiting c*sinos to play blackjack and poker. This is his life.
We met him when he made a modest profit of $750. He is good at low stakes games because he knows that c*sinos are good with card counters that don’t win too big. He doesn’t talk much.
He wore an elegant jacket and pants and an impenetrable sheen, avoiding the hoods, sunglasses, or goofy giant personalities of other professional players. It was just a distraction – he seemed like a pure person. What are the stories? Does he have? He may not have.
William walked into the motel room, downloaded the photos from the wall:
It turns off the clock and phone and carefully wraps all the furniture in white sheets and straps. Interesting. Special. It just adds to his mood as a sub-person.
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But maybe not a bad idea if you stay at the Super 8 for $65 per night. He wrote in his diary, drank whiskey, went to bed, and turned nightmares into fish-eye lenses for military torture prisons where inmates climbed n*ked.
Human excrement and crouched in an excruciating position while his roar was interrupted by heavy metal. Does that explain? Williams’ speciality? Possible. Is there anything easy to explain?
After a few hands, he sees a familiar face: La Linda (Tiffany Hadish). He walked around the table. He runs “stable” for professional players; their backer lays down the dough and gets a share of the profits. He wasn’t interested. She asks him why did he bet. “Time flies,” he said.
Williams’ next stop was a c*sino hosting a law enforcement conference. He enters a seminar led by Gordo (William Defoe), listening to something. Kirk (Ty Sheridan), pronounced “Kirk”, recognizes William as taking Gordo down when Gordo shouted orders to his subordinates at Abu Ghraib.
(Yes!) Kirk said to William: He was furious. He wanted Gordo dead. Inspiring situation – wake up? – Something on William. He changed his lonely lifestyle and invited Circus to travel from c*sino to c*sino with him and agreed to La Linda’s proposal. Why a change of heart?
He wanted to make money to help Cirk improve his life. He told La Linda. There may also be a romantic spark between this charming woman and a mysterious man. A mysterious man whose motives are so hard to pin down.
Card counters are not your typical gambling flick.
Of course not. Schrader was not interested in the usual drama at the poker table; the main character is a mathematician. I imagine watching him play is like looking over the shoulder of someone making quadratic equations.
What he’s doing in the c*sino isn’t even gambling and, frankly, a disgusting quasi-noir movie. It’s so much more fun to spend time with a guy who doesn’t have a fixed address and drives from place to place, follows a deeply dysfunctional personal regime, and tries to strike a balance between the parts of him that are capable of torment—people, and parts that take care of your neighbours.
Schrader directs the film with tight control. His visual acuity contrasts with the protagonist, who seems to inspire conclusions. Why the name Wilhelm Tell (as in the opening and shooting of the apple from the child’s head)?
Why keep a handwritten journal? Why sheets and threads? Why is he single? Why did he feel the need to take an aimless college kid under his wing? Funny, he makes a deal with Circus: He promises to get out if the kid calls his estranged mother.
Finding the intersection between the genuine concern for the Circus and the dark shadow of the soul that creates feelings of discomfort, William’s demeanour makes us wonder if this is how Damer cuts the hair of the poor souls who end up in his fridge.
This film is a study of characters and a collection of provocations that have spawned multiple interpretations. One of them is how America created disabled men like William – and Vietnamese taxi driver Travis Bickle – by pulling off their most disgusting trends.
So we spend a lot of the film giving the characters a thumbs-up:
Which is covered in petroleum jelly, but this attempt is far more interesting than disappointing. William Tell is all about broken Schröder loners like Travis Bickle and the Reverend Toler des First Reformer, desperate men looking for a place for themselves in the world.
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Schrader takes this issue seriously and emotionally enough to admit the script’s absurdity and its existence in film and reality. It’s a torturous drama and devious comedy. The story unfolds with uncertainty and inevitability through moments of beauty and brutality and ends with the final shot (and dare I say transcendent?), delayed in time. This was not just a provocation for his own sake. This was a deliberate provocation.