Like the little white ball on a roulette wheel, Croupier spins around and around and around before landing on a number that makes everybody look like a winner. In what may be the best film about gamblers since The Grifters, Clive Owen is Jack, a would-be novelist who takes a job at a casino to pay the bills. Or does he take it to gather material for his novel, the one that seems to be taking shape while Jack is living it? Not even Jack knows for sure, but director Mike Hodges and scriptwriter Paul Mayersberg have used the setup to offer their meditations on life, love, chance, fate and the ineluctable need, when the chips are down, to let them fall where they may.
In an early scene, Jack, who's applying for the casino job, has to sort chips while the manager holds a stopwatch on him, and the speed with which he performs this simple task is a thrill. Jack's a pro, having been taught by his father, but he's either unwilling or unable to prevent himself from getting involved in a casino robbery that could cost him much more than his job. As a guy who knows all the odds but bets on himself anyway, Owen gives a soft-as-felt performance. But it's his narration, whispered in our ears, that turns Croupier into a masterful shell game. Don't even try to outguess the movie, which has its poker face on. Just sit back and let it deal the cards.