on April 21, 2000 by Mike Kerrigan
   Clive Owen is the coolest guy in the movies; the competition is not even close. In the kinky drama "Close My Eyes," he made incest seem almost socially acceptable. In "The Rich Man's Wife," he gave Halle Berry a reason for having her husband whacked. Now he's dealing blackjack and spinning a roulette wheel with enough attitude to intimidate even the most hard-boiled gambler.

   Jack Manfred (Owen) really wants to be a novelist. He's working in a casino to pay the rent. But as he writes, the character he is creating gives him license to take chances with his own life. A tightly spun script by Paul Mayersberg ("The Man Who Fell to Earth," "Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence"), this absorbing drama hooks you early and keeps you guessing.

   The film even looks as cool as Owen's even stare, and you would expect no less from Mike Hodges the man who directed "Get Carter," one of the greatest crime movies of all time. It is all flashy interiors and gloomy night shots, agonizing close-ups and tight cross-cutting. It is a fascinating look into the head of a casino worker but it is also a terrifically plotted crime drama.

   Although the hero is not a terribly admirable character--he wants to be a writer for only financial reasons--he is very compelling, and Owen gets powerful support from three accomplished actresses creating three very different characters. But ultimately this film belongs to the ice-cool Owen. If Pierce Brosnan ever decides to abandon James Bond I know just the guy to fill his elegant calf-skin slip-on loafers.    Starring Clive Owen, Kate Hardie, Alex Kingston and Gina McKee. Directed by Mike Hodges. Written by Paul Mayersberg. Produced by Jake Lloyd. A Shooting Gallery release. Crime drama. Not rated. Running time: 95 min.

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