Croupier [1998]

Suffering from a bad case of writer's block, author Jack Manfred (Clive Owen) sits in his London flat, staring at an empty computer screen and trying to find the words to narrate his meandering life. Reluctantly Jack accepts a job from his absentee father (Nicholas Ball) at a second-rate casino as a dealer, or croupier, a job he once held in South Africa. His immersion back into this world is intoxicating, thanks primarily to the power he holds over his nightly clientele. Jack is a straight arrow on the floor (unlike his coworkers) but the whisper of an inside-job robbery makes his life suddenly more intriguing, as do the women who begin to drift into his life: a fellow croupier (Kate Hardie) and an alluring gambler (Alex Kingston). Suddenly, Jack finds his own life is his best book material. There's something visceral about watching the world of gambling, and director Mike Hodges (who directed the original Get Carter) taps into this allure; Jack's simple croupier tryout--handling cards and chips with skill and grace--is as captivating as most action scenes in big popcorn films. In the end, this little film, which went on to become an art-house hit, is as unpredictable as a roll of the dice. --Doug Thomas

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