Croupier (1998) starring Clive Owen, Gina McKee, Alex Kingston, Kate Hardie, Paul Reynolds, Alexander Morton, Nicholas Ball directed by Mike Hodges Movie Review

Croupier (1998)   4/54/54/54/54/5

Clive Owen as Jack Manfred in Croupier (1998)

Book Deal for Card Dealer

For those who know there movies than a simple way to explain "Croupier" is find the middle ground between Casino" and "Rounders". By that I mean here we have a movie which has the slick smoothness of "Casino" as we learn the ways of a London casino, the way people operate, the scams which are employed but then rather than being about the bosses it focuses on an individual as in "Rounders". Yet here is a twist because the person in question is a writer who takes a job in a Casino working as a Croupier to get inspiration for a book and finds himself being sucked in to the seedy underworld whilst in a narrative style we learn all about the operations from him.

Aspiring writer Jack Manfred (Clive Owen - Duplicity) gets a call from his father who has hooked him up with an interview at The Golden Lion Casino. Experienced at dealing cards and handling chips as well as spotting scams Jack gets the job as a Croupier with no problems and sets about using the job to write a novel. But his relationship to his girlfriend Marion (Gina McKee) hits a rough patch and he finds himself breaking Casino rules by fraternising with Jani (Alex Kingston - The Poseidon Adventure) one of the patrons, a patron it turns out who is in trouble and needs his help as an inside man for a robbery.

Alex Kingston as Jani de Villiers in Croupier (1998)

You can split "Croupier" into almost 2 clear parts with the first being all about introducing us to the life of writer Jack Manfred as he takes a job as a Croupier, something which he had done before. As such this first half is very much about the entertainment be it the skills with the chips and cards to his inside knowledge which we get through his observational narration. It is full of dry wit as we learn about the rules of the Casino, the failures in the way it runs and the scams which punters employ. And talking of which we have Jack's astute observations on the punters, spotting the cheats, those who are desperate and don't know when to stop as well as those who sell items to fund their gambling, a ring disappears from a finger evidence of financial difficulties. It is insightful, smooth and slick with a mix of great card action and the mechanics which never become dull.

This opening also has the background of Jack becoming addicted, not to the gambling but to the life, addicted to watching people lose and getting close to those he works with. It is nicely done because as "Croupier" progresses we have Jack becoming his alter ego Jake, the person he is writing as in the book all about the world of the Casino. It leads to issues as he breaks rules, deals with upset gamblers and also relationship difficulties with his girlfriend Marion who finds it difficult watching Jack change into Jake, hooked on this new lifestyle.

This first half leads to the second part of the story, what you could say is a thriller aspect but in reality it is a minor storyline as Jack gets close to gambler Jani who needs his help. I won't say much other than there are moments of drama, some surprises and some satisfyingly amusing twists to round all of this off.

Now credit where it is due and Mike Hodges delivers a nice style, less glitzy than Scorsese's "Casino" but still with that smoothness and speed which makes it almost intoxicating as we have the rapid card and chip action accompanied by the narrative insight. But at the same time Clive Owen is due just as much credit because he delivers this wonderful character, smooth, clever, cool as ice and a little dangerous. The way he handles a deck is great but so is the way he observes everything going on around him and the dry tone to his narration makes him enigmatic. There are others and Alex Kingston most definitely makes an impression as Jani de Villiers but then so do Gina McKee, Kate Hardie and Paul Reynolds.

What this all boils down to is that "Croupier" is a very good movie which manages to combine the insightfulness of "Casino" intermixed with a thriller style storyline of gambling and low lifes. And it stands on its own because there is not only a dry wit to things but the ingenuity of us following a writer who works as a croupier and delivers all this insight with the tongue of a writer giving it a neo-noir element.