Of Gambling And Disguises

Coolly hypnotic, the lean British sleeper "Croupier" is a reminder that movies don't have to wave their arms and scream to hold our attention. Stillness can be as riveting as frantic activity, and there is a chilly stillness in the eyes of Jack Manfred (Clive Owen), an aspiring novelist who finds his subject matter in the airless casinos of London, where he deals blackjack, spins the roulette wheel and becomes "hooked on watching people lose."

Tautly directed by Mike Hodges, who made the classic 1971 noir "Get Carter," and cunningly written by Paul Mayersberg, "Croupier" is a thriller whose thrills derive less from the suspense of a heist Jack is lured into joining than from the mysteries of identity. People are not quite who they appear to be in this slippery tale, including our unnervingly detached protagonist, who splits himself into two people--Jack the novelist and "Jake" the hero of the gambling novel he's writing. Equally ambiguous are the three women in his life--his girlfriend Marion (Gina McKee), a department-store detective; his lover Bella (Kate Hardie), an ex-hooker turned dealer, and the vibrant, enigmatic South African high roller Jani ("ER's" Alex Kingston). The last card "Croupier" deals is wild: it forces you to reshuffle the movie's meaning in your mind.

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