Year: 1983. Running time: 94 minutes. Color. In French with optional English subtitles. 1.33:1 aspect ratio. Directed by Barbet Schroeder. Starring Bulle Ogier and Jacques Dutronc. From Home Vision Entertainment.

Review by David Gurevich

Off the bat, let's get two things straight. One, Barbet Schroeder is not a great film director. In fact, his films have been going down hill steadily since Barfly, and that film wasn't great either. I don't know what happened to Schroeder in Hollywood, but it's not good and probably not that interesting. The question, Was there a real Schroeder whose talent is buried in Beverly Hills, is academic and perhaps should stay one.

Two, Les Tricheurs (The Cheaters), made in 1983 -- Schroeder's last film before he went Hollywood -- is not among his best. It's not as good as Maîtresse or Reversal of Fortune. It's a gambling movie, a genre that is not widespread (Karel Reisz's The Gambler with James Caan leaps to mind -- a much better film), and, like all movies about addiction, these are not always pretty to look at. They're all variations on the art of losing, which means that the closer you get to the characters, the more painful it will get -- and Les Tricheurs is no exception.

And yet, taken on its own terms, Les Tricheurs works surprisingly well. First, it has an unusual twist: its characters are both degenerate gamblers and crooks at the same time -- and the two sides bounce off each other in interesting ways. An interesting synergy, as they say in business schools. Second, Schroeder, who has lived all over the world, has a sure hand with local color (which is a hell of a reason to see Our Lady of the Assassins -- no TV special will get you the same feeling for the mean streets of Medellin), and the Portuguese island of Madeira is a heck of a place to visit. Third, Schroeder does know how to work with actors (Jeremy Irons in Reversal, and quite possibly Mickey Rourke's finest hour in Barfly), so you get a couple of solid performances from a mad-eyed Jacques Dutronc and very sexy Bulle Ogier, who made a specialty of acting crazy under a cool façade.

The story is not terribly complicated and even takes some time to pull you in: roulette-crazy Dutronc hooks up with Ogier, taking her to be his lucky charm, but then leaves her for a professional roulette cheater called Jorg, who offers him a chance to work as a team and rip off the top casinos in the world. Sooner or later, Dutronc and Ogier's paths cross again, and this time the girl wins. Together, they design a foolproof scheme to relieve a casino in Madeira of $600,000, so that Dutronc could buy the castle that his father once managed. (Better not to dwell on details -- this is where antiquated technology is bound to ruin the film for security freaks spoiled by Ocean's Eleven and The Italian Job.) But once again, the dilemma comes up -- are they professional con men or are they simply degenerate gamblers? The conflict generates a few unfortunate platitudes in the dialogue, but also some first-rate suspense that Schroeder handles extremely well. I mean, for this hardcore critic, this movie's plot could go either way until the last minute. And the epilogue-type ending is so good I wouldn't reveal it under torture (insert one of your own choosing).

The quality of Home Vision Entertainment's DVD presentation of Les Tricheurs is very good throughout, and aficionados will enjoy the interview with the director, who reveals tidbits about his own gambling streaks. On the whole, Les Tricheurs is an amusing and even charming period piece with excitements all its own.

Tricheurs is now available on DVD from Home Vision Entertainment in a digitally remastered, letterboxed version with new electronic subtitles. Special features: interview with director Barbet Schroeder and an essay by gambling specialist and author Christopher Pawlicki. Suggested retail price: $19.95. For more information, check out the Home Vision Entertainment Web site.