Rated R - Running Time: 1:34 - Released 4/21/00 (Original release: 6/25/98)

Only during this time of year, during the late summer dead period, could a mediocre two-year-old movie be re-released and look good among its competition. Croupier, written by Paul Mayersberg and directed by Mike Hodges, is a depressing but well-acted account of an author who researches his topic by getting a job as a croupier (or casino dealer). Hodges's film is dark and brooding, and delivered in novel form, with a constant literary-style narration by its star (Clive Owen), revealing the dark side of life behind the gambling tables.

In Mayersberg's story, Jack Manfred (Owen) wants to be an author, but is having trouble with writer's block. Through his father's (Nicholas Ball) connections, he grudgingly accepts a position behind the blackjack table at the Golden Lion, a London casino. He had done this before when he lived in South Africa, but had sworn not to get involved again. It seems Jack has a problem: he never gambles himself, but is addicted to seeing people lose. Through his narration, we learn that he is fascinated by how many people are willing to ignore the odds and play until they are broke. So his new job provides him with his story. His main character is a croupier named Jake, and he recounts, chapter by chapter, the people and things he experiences in his job. Trouble is, he gets hooked again — and this time, he gets in deeper than he ever intended.

While it features a tense plot and some good performances, Croupier is too dark for its own good. Like the 1998 Matt Damon film Rounders, this film shows us a character who loves what he's doing but doesn't give us enough explanation as to why. Jack's world is positioned so deeply in society's dark underbelly it is unfathomable why he would be so attracted to it, especially when his lover (Gina McKee) is willing to support him until his book is published. The reason could be explained somehow, but neither Mayersberg's script nor Hodges's direction really does the job, and Owen's deadpan style, intended to portray him as the emotionless dealer he is, doesn't help either. The idea is that after accepting the job and starting his novel, Jack "becomes" Jake, and while the former has a strict rule against gambling, his alter ego and main character gets sucked in. Soon he is sleeping with one of his regular customers (Alex Kingston), which is against company rules, and she asks him to participate in a planned cheating operation to pay off her huge debt and save her life. To help her would require ignoring the odds.

Despite my problems with the dark tone and depressing nature of this film, I must admit that there is good work done by Owen, McKee, and Kingston, not to mention several other actors in smaller roles. ***½

Copyright 2000 by John R. McEwen and The Republican

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