The Card Counter
2021
**
Director: Paul Schrader
Cast: Oscar Isaac, Tiffany Haddish, Tye Sheridan, Willem Dafoe, Alexander Babara, Bobby C. King

William Tell is a gambler who served time in military prison for his role in the Abu Ghraib prisoner abuse scandal. He meets a young man who wants to kill a retired officer who trained William. This dull drama about another lonely self-loathing man who fights his demons feels like Paul Schrader by the numbers. For this one, he combines two parallel stories, professional gambling and personal redemption, which are both equally boring. Nevertheless, Oscar Isaac gives another fine performance.


First Reformed
2017
****
Director: Paul Schrader
Cast: Ethan Hawke, Amanda Seyfried, Cedric Kyles, Victoria Hill, Philip Ettinger, Michael Gaston, Bill Hoag

Pastor Toller of the First Reformed Church counsels a young man who is completely overwhelmed by the implications of climate change. This drives the ailing and troubled pastor to question his own beliefs and purpose in the world. Paul Schrader has written some terrific screenplays about desperately lonely and self-destructive men (Taxi Driver and Raging Bull), but his directorial track record is a bit hit and miss. However, this intriguing and powerful drama is one of his best. Ethan Hawke is excellent in the lead.


Exorcist: The Beginning
2004
**
Director: Renny Harlin
Cast: Stellan Skarsgard, Izabella Scorupco, James D’Arcy, Remy Sweeney

In the beginning of The Exorcist we learned that an archeological dig in Africa was the source of the possession. Now we go back there to witness Father Merrin encounter the demonic presence for the first time. The introduction is promising and the picture, which was shot by Vittorio Storaro, looks stunning, but as the cheap scares and clichés begin to pile up it becomes obvious that this prequel has nothing new to add to the franchise. In fact the making of this movie is a far more exciting story: Paul Schrader, the original director was sacked and Renny Harlin reshot the whole thing. Schrader’s version was released in 2005 as Dominion: Prequel to the Exorcist.


Auto Focus
2002
**½
Director: Paul Schrader
Cast: Greg Kinnear, Willem Dafoe, Rita Wilson, Maria Bello, Ron Leibman

As numerous educational books and films have taught us, a life of excess leads either to redemption (Walk the Line) or to death (The Doors). This fact-based story doesn’t break the formula. A clean-cut family man and overnight celebrity suddenly discovers that he’s irresistible to women. Pretty soon he immerses himself in sleaze, turns into a sex addict and begins to tape himself in action. Greg Kinnear is very strong in the lead, but the film offers precious little new insight into the subject. In fact, there wouldn’t be a movie at all was it not based on a real life TV star.


Bringing Out the Dead
1999
****
Director: Martin Scorsese
Cast: Nicolas Cage, Patricia Arquette, John Goodman, Ving Rhames

Martin Scorsese paints the screen with vivid colours and arresting images as he revisits the seedy underworld of New York City in this companion piece to Taxi Driver. This is also scripted by Paul Schrader, this time from Joe Connelly’s book. Nicolas Cage plays a depressed and insomniac paramedic who looks for redemption. A darkly comic but slightly episodic film.


Affliction
1998
****
Director: Paul Schrader
Cast: Nick Nolte, James Coburn, Sissy Spacek, Mary Beth Hurt

Old wounds between father and son are reopened as the latter, a small town cop, becomes obsessed with an allegedly accidental death. Paul Schrader adapted Russell Banks’ novel and creates a haunting drama which doesn’t show its hand, even at the end. Nick Nolte and the Oscar winning James Coburn both give very strong and gruffy performances.


City Hall
1995
**½
Director: Harold Becker
Cast: Al Pacino, John Cusack, Danny Aiello, Bridget Fonda, Martin Landau

New York City is hit by a scandal when an innocent child dies in a shootout between a detective and a mobster who was released on parole. The deputy major digs into the case and discovers widespread corruption. This well-acted drama has an impressive list of screenwriters (Kenneth Lipper, Paul Schrader, Nicholas Pileggi and Bo Goldman), yet its script is the weakest link. The plot is predictable and the dialogue is mostly redundant jabber.


Light Sleeper
1992
***
Director: Paul Schrader
Cast: Willem Dafoe, Susan Sarandon, Dana Delany, David Clennon

Paul Schrader, the writer of Taxi Driver tells another story about a loner who has problems to sleep. Ths time the protagonist is a small time drug courier. Schrader maintains a tense atmosphere but the film doesn’t add up to much in the end.


The Last Temptation of Christ
1988
****
Director: Martin Scorsese
Cast: Willem Dafoe, Harvey Keitel, Barbara Hershey, Harry Dean Stanton

Martin Scorsese’s pet project is a controversial alternative look at the life of Jesus Christ. Willem Dafoe and Harvey Keitel are very good as Jesus and Judas, respectively. This long but captivating drama was adapted from Nikos Kazantzakis’ novel by Paul Schrader.


Cat People
1982
***
Director: Paul Schrader
Cast: Nastassia Kinski, Malcom McDowell, John Heard, Annette O’Toole

Paul Schrader’s successful but needlessly explicit remake of the classic horror film has some nice special effects that have stood the test of time.


American Gigolo
1980
**
Director: Paul Schrader
Cast: Richard Gere, Lauren Hutton, Hector Elizondo, Nina Van Pallandt

Paul Schrader’s mildly daring thriller about a male prostitute seems very outdated, or perhaps it’s just plain bad. Richard Gere is constantly topless in his breakthrough role.


Taxi Driver
1976
*****
Director: Martin Scorsese
Cast: Robert De Niro, Harvey Keitel, Jodie Foster, Cybill Shepherd, Peter Boyle

Robert De Niro is phenomenal as Travis Bickle, God’s Lonely Man, an insomniac taxi driver who is becoming increasingly disconnected from the world around him. This mesmerising, violent and controversial study of loneliness was scripted by Paul Schrader and it remains one of Scorsese’s most accomplished films. Bernard Herrmann’s final score is great.