"Tough Luck," a taut and clever neo-noir, is well titled, for its hero, Archie (Norman Reedus), seems a born loser. A small-time grifter, he's fresh out of prison when he makes the mistake of cheating at a New Orleans casino, for which he is not merely thrown out but left beaten up and scarred. Drifting into a carnival set up in a town somewhere outside the city, Archie tries some more shady stuff, with thugs once again pouncing down upon him and depositing him with the carnival owner.
Armand Assante's Ike, a rugged Latvian immigrant who spent three years in the Gulag, treats Archie differently, giving him a warning but also offering him a job. Ike, however, is in fact sizing up Archie to see if he has what it takes to rub out his sultry young wife, Melissa (Dagmara Dominczyk), who dances in the carnival sideshow with an albino python as part of her act.
It's an understatement to describe Ike and Melissa's marriage as volatile, and Archie is drawn to Melissa, who not surprisingly is herself as dangerous as a snake. In no time at all, the double-crosses come thick and fast, culminating in a gratifying twist, then ending on a deft note of wistfulness that is surprisingly just right.