Clive Owen gives a witty, superbly clenched performance in Croupier, directed by the underrated Mike Hodges (Get Carter, Pulp) and scripted by the overrated Paul Mayersberg (The Man Who Fell to Earth, Eureka), who fortunately tones down his flossier excesses this time around. Movies about gambling often devolve into existential quagmires, but the best of them, Jacques Demy’s Bay of Angels and Robert Altman’s California Split, are intoxicated by the vagaries of chance. Croupier isn’t on their level, but it’s a small-scale triumph of sharp storytelling and dry-ice urbanity. Owen’s Jack Manfred is a would-be novelist making a living as a croupier in a posh London casino. Sometimes speaking directly to us, he scatters bright-boy aphorisms as if they were blackjack chips (sample: “Gambling is about not facing reality, about ignoring the odds”). He doesn’t gamble himself, and he enjoys watching others lose. Jack may think he’s in control of his life, but of course he’s not. His comeuppance is, for us, almost as delicious as his ascent. I’m not sure why this 1998 film went unreleased in this country for so long. Too smart, maybe?