Paul Schrader’s ‘The Card Counter’ With Oscar Isaac Dealt to Focus Features

Tiffany Haddish, Tye Sheridan and Willem Dafoe co-star

Last Updated: July 13, 2020 @ 11:24 AM

Focus Features has acquired out of the Cannes Virtual Market the U.S. rights to “The Card Counter,” the latest film from director Paul Schrader that stars Oscar Isaac, the studio announced Monday.

“The Card Counter” is Schrader’s follow-up to his Oscar-nominated “First Reformed,” and the film co-stars Tiffany Haddish, Tye Sheridan and Willem Dafoe in what’s described as a revenge thriller executive produced by Martin Scorsese.

The film is a revenge thriller following Isaac as William Tell, a gambler and former serviceman who sets out to reform a young man seeking revenge on a mutual enemy from their past. Here’s the full synopsis:

Tell (Isaac) just wants to play cards. His spartan existence on the casino trail is shattered when he is approached by Cirk (Sheridan), a vulnerable and angry young man seeking help to execute his plan for revenge on a military colonel (Dafoe). Tell sees a chance at redemption through his relationship with Cirk. But keeping Cirk on the straight-and-narrow proves impossible, dragging Tell back into the darkness of his past.

Focus Features will distribute “The Card Counter” in the U.S. and Universal Pictures International will distribute internationally in UK, France, Switzerland, Italy, Spain, ANZ, China, SE Asia (excluding Singapore, Hong Kong, Taiwan and television), Japan, South Korea, Latin America and airlines.

Producers on “The Card Counter” are Braxton Pope, Lauren Mann and David Wulf. The film’s executive producers are Scorsese, William Olsson, Lee Broda, Ruben Islas and Stanley Preschutti. This marks the fifth collaboration between Schrader and Scorsese, who previously worked together on “Taxi Driver,” “Raging Bull,” “The Last Temptation of Christ” and “Bringing Out the Dead.”

“The folks at Focus are the best at what they do. Over the years I’ve been jealous of directors in the Focus fold. Now happily I am one,” Schrader said in a statement.

“At a time when many of us are left wondering whether it’s our circumstances that corrupt souls or if it’s corrupt souls that create the circumstances, no one can say for sure, but has anyone explored this more in film than Paul Schrader,” Focus chairman Peter Kujawski said in a statement. “All of us at Focus can’t wait to hear and see what Paul has to say now more than ever before, and we’re very proud to help him bring this story to the world.”

Production on “The Card Counter” shut down in March with just five days remaining in production, and Schrader said on a recent panel discussion with Deadline that the film would resume the week of July 6. Schrader had completed a “90% cut” of the film and showed it to buyers as part of the Cannes Virtual Market, but the film was slightly rewritten following Schrader’s editing process.

In the interview with Deadline, Schrader said “The Card Counter” is about poker just as much as his script for “Taxi Driver” is about cabbies. It’s a film about a man who feels guilty for his past sins and was punished and rejected from society, but he still has his own moral dilemma. His idea for poker as a metaphor for a person drifting through life came when he finally saw people sitting for hours in a World Series of Poker event.

“You just sit here and you run numbers 12 hours a day, and you just sit here…You’ve found a successful way not to exist,” Schrader said. “All gambling movies are about being a winner, and this is not about winning in that way.”

“The Card Counter” also reunites Schrader with some of his collaborators on “First Reformed,” including cinematographer Alexander Dynan and editor Benjamin Rodriguez Jr. Production leads also include costume designer Lisa Madonna and production designer Ashley Fenton.

Focus Features has been particularly active on the market as well, having recently released Jon Stewart’s “Irresistible” and recently scooping up James Gray’s next film “Armageddon Time” and Justin Chon’s indie drama “Blue Bayou.” Other upcoming titles include Miranda July’s “Kajillionaire” acquired out of Sundance and Paul Thomas Anderson’s next film.

HanWay films represented the international sale of the film.  Schrader’s rep, David Gonzales, and Endeavor Content handled the U.S. sale.

Isaac is represented by WME and Inspire Entertainment, Haddish by Artists First and UTA, Sheridan by Mosaic and WME, and Dafoe by CAA and Circle of Confusion. Schrader is represented by David Gonzales.  Both Sheridan and Isaac are also represented by attorney Mitch Smelkinson. The production is represented by attorney Joseph Lanius.

Variety first reported the news of the sale.

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