You can watch Croupier in one of two ways: you can see it as a dark commentary on the nature of man or as a mere caper with many bizarre twists. I like to pretend I am someone of great depth, so I choose the former.
Through the prism of gambling, Croupier offers insights about misfortune and the dark side of the human condition. With mostly unknown actors and a low budget, there is little to detract from the characters and the story.
Croupier has a two-for-one protagonist deal. Jack (Clive Owen) is a struggling writer who gets a job at a casino thanks to his father, also a gambler. Once working in the casino, the croupier inside of Jack - AKA the dealer begins to emerge. The croupier is unrepentant and detached. While the gamblers are addicted to the game, the croupier is addicted to watching them lose.
Next, Jack begins to pen a novel, using his voyeuristic tendencies as inspiration for Jake, the book's protagonist. Jack's third-person voice-over makes it seem as though he is writing the book over the movie, and the Jake character becomes an outlet for the author's true personality.
Croupier hinges primarily on Owen's performance and he seems at ease in the complex role. With an expressionless face and a cigarette dangling from his mouth, he is equal parts Bogart and Belmondo.
Early in the film, Jack remarks he is a Gemini, which foreshadows the duality that eventually emerges. Jack gets involved in a scheme to crook the house, spurred on by the proverbial venus flytrap dame, played by Alex Kingston (ER's Dr. Corday).
For a film about the surreal world of gambling, Croupier's style and tone is fairly realistic. The lower budget actually help the film as the viewer gets a sense of the character's working-class existence. The croupier's coldness toward the gamblers is reflected in the art direction; the casino is all done in mirrors and cool silvery tones, no Vegas-style blinking lights.
Still, Croupier isn't totally an ace in the hole. Endings can make or break a film, and the last moments of this movie are crippled by abrupt and far-fetched plot twists. These final scenes don't ruin Croupier, but they seem like 15 minutes from some bungled, straight-to-video flick. Overall, Croupier is well acted and generally well written, and if not for the B-movie twists at the end, it could have been a contender.