Croupier

Ultra-cool pseudo thriller about Jack (Clive Owen), a failed South African writer who accepts a job as a card dealer in a London casino in order to make a bit of money and soon finds himself becoming addicted – not to gambling, but to dealing.

This highly original film bypasses all the cliches you might think you see coming. Although there's a sexy femme fatale (Alex Kingston), a worried girlfriend back home (Gina McKee, who could pass for Hugh Grant's sister), some shady gambler types, and the inevitable promise of easy money in exchange for Jack's taking part in a crime that "couldn't possibly go wrong", Hodges and writer Paul Mayersberg didn't create such a rich central character just to set him up for a fall. This film is filled with twists and turns that feel natural and real, not planned or clever-clever. The characters come first. And kudos to Hodges and Mayersberg for making a film noir with a protagonist who is actually more interesting than the supporting players!

Warning: Owen provides voiceover throughout the film in the third person, a conceit that might scream "pretentious" at first, but is appropriate: as the story progresses, Jack starts writing a book based on his experiences, and he and his fictional character Jake become both split and shared personalities, so that Jack can no longer refer to himself as "I". There are actually themes of duality throughout the film, from countless mirrors to nice little details (Jack is a Gemini). Some may find it forced. I found it inventive.

Croupier is not fast-paced, and it takes itself rather too seriously at times, but it's a smart, refreshingly icy alternative to all the overdone bombast out there.