It wouldn't do, would it, to be emotionally involved with the characters who are taking shape before your eyes for the book that is writing itself in your head.
"Write, write, write," says the editor to the author. "He who persists will win." But Jack Manfred (Clive Owen) is so thoroughly blocked in writing his novel that persistence is empty energy. What material can he pull up with mental muscles gone flabby? What observations can he make when he is observing nothing? Jack's gambler father is hammering him long-distance about getting a real job and even has a concrete suggestion: The Golden Lion Casino is looking for a dealer. Jack will become The Croupier. As the son of a gambling father, our hero has known this world before. He's a wizard of a dealer, and he's smart. He knows that you gamble or deal, never both. This is a straight dealer who gets a visceral high from one thing: watching people dumb enough to play at a table when they know the house has the odds. Clive Owen's Jack is an angular guy with a face full of planes, a serious cynic who never breaks a smile, an arrow flying straight in a world of shadows. He goes home at night to Marion (Gina McKee), a loving girlfriend whose penchant for lottery tickets infuriates him. What sane person would mess with odds of 41 million to one? As narrator, Jack muses to himself and talks to us. We gain from him a palpable sense of the darkness of the gambling business. Casinos never have windows. Don't remind the customers of light, they might decide to go outside. The gamblers, professional or passing, are addicted to gaming as surely as one might be to alcohol or nicotine. And gamblers are master smokers. Jack's cigarette hangs from his lip, 40s style, as he moves smoothly to his table in the dark casino. The movie delivers a strong sense of place and of the rituals of the game. In this meticulously rendered atmosphere of subdued desperation, Jack's story holds us. All this is conjured up on what must be a ridiculously low budget. The sets consist of Jack's bed with its various occupants and a small corner of the casino itself, where unfolding personal dramas begin to form the characters for the story in his head. Director Mike Hodges gets great credit for creating a film as strong as this with such meager resources. Under his hand, the actors come through, all of them in tune with the carefully crafted atmosphere. Jack drives for complete emotional detachment from his surroundings, and he succeeds. Finally, he no longer even hears the sound of the roulette ball. Nor does he feel much of anything for the various players who come in and out of his bed, including one of the more mysterious, Jani (Alex Kingston), a glamorous South African card player with an agenda. It wouldn't do, would it, to be emotionally involved with the characters who are taking shape before your eyes for the book that is writing itself in your head.
Film Critic : JOAN ELLIS
Word Count : 495
Studio : Shooting Gallery Films
Rating : R
Running time : 1h52m
Copyright (c) Illusion
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