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If you've ever wondered what it would be like to be on the dealing end of a casino table, "Croupier" antes up.


Anti-hero, Jack Manfred (Clive Owen), is a cold-hearted bloke who warms to the thrill of watching the "punters" lose in the London casino where he works. The twist: He really wants to write a novel, and he hopes to use his job to gather material for his book. While most gambling films focus on the bettor, "Croupier" explores the often-overlooked view from the dealer: the house rules they incessantly break, the temptation to cheat and the pressure of orchestrating the constant games.


You can't take your eyes off Owen, who is mesmerizing as the poker-faced dealer. He glides through his days and nights with a laconic stare, lying glibly to strangers and never missing a trick at the casino. Supporting performances add to the slightly seedy air. Alex Kingston (Dr. Elizabeth Corday on

"ER") affecting a bad South African accent, plays a gambler in debt (is there any other kind?) and Gina McKee is Jack's quietly conniving girlfriend.


Despite subtle plotlines, the film's pace never flags. Mike Hodges, who directed the Michael Caine classic "Get Carter," keeps false sentiment out of Manfred's story, developing it in measured, cool strokes. Along the way, viewers are lured into the seductive textures and sounds of the gaming tables -- cards fanned across the green felt, the click and whir of roulette balls.

Bottom Line

Not only will you think twice about chatting idly with your next blackjack dealer, you'll pick up a few new card tricks.