Croupier (1998) / Crime-Drama
MPAA Rated: R for language, nudity, sexuality and violence
Running Time: 94 min.
Cast: Clive Owen, Gina McKee, Alex Kingston, Kate Hardie, Nicholas Ball, Nick Reding
Director: Mike Hodges
Screenplay: Paul Mayersberg
Review published May 2, 2003
Even when there isn't much there, sometimes professionalism can save the day. Directed by Mike Hodges, who filmed the original Get Carter as well as the fantasy comic book flick, Flash Gordon, this isn't a big-budget actioner, but given the quality of the writing and actors, that isn't a bad thing at all. That writing is also by a veteran in the industry, Paul Mayersberg, perhaps best known for his very first screenplay, The Man Who Fell to Earth, way back in 1976.
Clive Owen is the titular star, a relatively little-known longtime actor who has appeared in The Bourne Identity and Gosford Park in recent years, but is perhaps best known for his role as the driver in the BMW ads called "The Hire." He plays Jack Manfred, a fading writer down on his luck, who takes a side job as a croupier (a casino dealer), an occupation he hadn't held since coming to England from his homeland of South Africa. Alex Kingston, known to most Americans as Dr. Corday on the TV show "E.R.", plays Jani, a punter (gambler) who catches Jack's eye not only because of her good looks, but she is also from South Africa as well. The two become friends, and she confides in him that she is desperate for money and needs Jack's help. A heist of the casino he works at is planned, if he'll only play along, they both will benefit monetarily. For a writer like Jack, a chance at a best-selling story of his exploits makes him jump at the chance.
Croupier isn't really the most exciting motion picture out there, playing very much like the sort of film one might see made for the BBC (or PBS). It is a bit lean, and not thoroughly engaging, but where the action is mostly absent, it's filled with good bits of drama. Clive Owen is terrific as the mostly stoic Jack, whose agile mind and amoral heart lends for complexity, with a protagonist that cares little about right and wrong. Hodges direction isn't lively, but the story revolves around some rather lifeless characters, so the technique works well.
Watch Croupier if you love films about gambling, especially ones that give you a sense of what casino life is like on the inside. It's also a decent drama, although the personal relationships aren't nearly as interesting as watching the action on the roulette or blackjack table. Although a bit dry to be for most viewers out there, it's a gambling film for the thinking man.
©2015 Vince Leo