I was promised Oscar Isaac and poker. I only got one.
That being said, Paul Schrader’s film portrays the most depressing (realistic?) portrayal of casinos and the gambling world ever seen on film, and it is an interesting demythologizing in itself. And there’s more to come!
Oscar Isaacs’ ex-convict William Tell neatly lays sheets over the furniture in his hotel rooms and keeps himself at a proper distance from any kind of human relationship or attention. Oscar Isaac is spellbinding as he slowly uncovers his trauma through two people who still captivate him.
With ‘First Reformed,’ Scorsese’s old screenwriter Paul Schrader made a triumphant return as a director. Not perfect, but an uncompromising cinematic soul-searching.
William stumbles into a commercial convention on ex-military security techniques and meets a certain young man: Cirk (Tye Sheridan). Cirk offers William to help him kill a mutual acquaintance. William counters: Cirk can join him on the road and learn about gambling. Does William want to teach Cirk how to channel his rage and hurt into the soulless but safe world of casinos? William appears to be teaching Cirk nothing concrete about card games; is this a ruse to co-opt Cirk’s murderous scheme?
To show the casino’s sterile, emotionless world, Schrader’s film shows the players crammed into a bingo hall for the first round of poker tournaments. William and Cirk are like a less intimate version of George Segal and Elliott Gould’s tragicomic buddy pairing in Robert Altman’s gambling film California Split from 1974, or Philip Baker Hall and John C Reilly’s master-pupil gambling relationship in Paul Thomas Anderson’s Hard Eight from 1996.