The Winner

on July 25, 1997 by Cathy Thompson-Georges
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   Quirky and stylish, "The Winner" is yet another entry in the neo-noir genre that has dominated the screen throughout the '90s. What distinguishes it from its brethren is its emphasis on character and leisurely pacing, rather than a labyrinthine plot or visual pyrotechnics.
   Philip ("The Whole Wide World's" Vincent D'Onofrio) is a mild-mannered sort who has embarked on an unprecedented winning streak in one of Las Vegas' seedier casinos. Attracted like flies to honey by his good fortune, hustlers and schemers converge on him. Among them are a slightly psychotic grifter, Joey ("Swimming With Sharks'" Frank Whaley); his ne'er-do-well brother ("Species'" Michael Madsen); and a hard-as-nails chanteuse (an uncharacteristically inelegant Rebecca DeMornay) and her lover ("Sling Blade's" Billy Bob Thornton). Over it all, a gangster casino boss ("Clockers'" Delroy Lindo) looks down from his office like the eye of a malevolent god.
   "The Winner" is a highly stylized film; making the most of Vegas locations (notably the Liberace museum for a spectacular seduction scene), it nonetheless makes the city look unreal. Philip lives in a so-new-it's-raw housing development, creepy in its suburban banality. It's not a vision of Las Vegas audiences have seen before. The strong cast--all characters actors par excellence--breathe life into nightlife types that could easily have been cliches. D'Onofrio is particularly fine playing a man so decent and unassuming that he seems like a dimwit, and DeMornay makes a compelling lowlife.
   In the last act, "The Winner" takes an odd left turn into surrealism, a move that perhaps played better on stage, where this script had its genesis in Wendy Riss' play. Still, the movie is well worth a look for its coherent and original vision of the American obsession with luck, glamor, riches, violence and true love.    Starring Vincent D'Onofrio, Rebecca DeMornay, Delroy Lindo and Michael Madsen. Directed by Alex Cox. Written by Wendy Riss. Produced by Kenneth Schwenker. A Live release. Drama. Running time: 90 min.
Tags: Las Vegas, gambling, nightlife, gangster, mobster, casino, romance, Vincent D'Onofrio, Rebecca DeMornay, Delroy Lindo, Michael Madsen, Alex Cox
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