It’s a sensible advice: write what you know. Wannabe writer Jack Manfred (Clive Owen) heeds and heads back to a world he has deserted. On the advice of his father (Nicholas Ball), he takes the job as a croupier, or, in other words, a casino dealer. It’s an easy task, since he already developed a conjurer’s hands while growing up in a South African house of addiction. The dashing man in tux knows the tactics in making gamblers lose more money. He is wise enough to never get in bed with other croupiers and, in particular, the gambling clients. But as Jack writes his novel, he begins to lead a double life.

At the casino, he tries to flesh out his alter-ego Jake, his croupier character in his story. Jake is not much different from Jack. But as a character, Jake’s nature is to be tempted by danger. If Jake plays it safe like Jack, the novel is going to suffer. So Jack, as Jake, is slowly pulled in by peril. He breaks some rules and soon, reaches a point where someone offers him a suspicious deal. Does the dealer take the deal? Does the croupier turn into a gambler?

“Croupier” is a slow, but intriguing neo-noir. If the unraveling of the plot is the card game, then the movie acts like its titular occupation. With a reserved and detached demeanor, “Croupier” wants us to focus and be attentive, as it deals the cards of the story. Gradually, the movie becomes intriguing and seduces us to play a little longer. Yet, as a viewer, we suspect the film is silently and surreptitiously staging the “unpredictable” outcome.

This suspicion arises from the voice-over narration, which exposes the furtive thoughts behind Jack’s stone-faced visage. Delivered with somber perfection by Clive Owen, these interior monologues are essential to the screenplay’s intoxicating quality. They enliven scenes that are otherwise visually mundane. But I think the real attraction here is Clive Owen, who is right on the money. He plays a character so complex, it’s basically two characters (the writer and the croupier). I have a suspicion that Jack created Jake because the odds is greater. As they say, two is better than one. If one lifestyle fails, he has another one to fall back on. Life is a gamble and the croupier certainly knows to deal with it.

Grade: B+

Clive Owen, Kate Hardie, Alex Kingston, and Gina McGee
Screenplay by
Paul Mayersberg
Directed by
Mike Hodges