Croupier (1998) dir. Mike Hodges
Starring Clive Owen
Guest Review by Blair Stewart
“Hang on tightly, let go lightly”
This motto applies to love and life for Jack Manfred, Clive Owen’s breakout performance as the feckless sociopath at the centre of Mike Hodges little-seen gem. A struggling writer, Jack fights his ingrained gambling gene inherited by his degenerate father and keeps his wet-blanket girlfriend at arm’s length from his true nature. Offered a job as a croupier in a tacky West London casino, Jack takes to it as potential material for his great debut novel, and ends up becoming ensnared with shifty characters and dodgy schemes.
A sneaky, deeply cynical take on the gambling sub-genre that has established itself over the past decade with the likes of “Rounders”, ”Hard Eight” and "Owning Mahoney", “Croupier” isn’t really concerned with turns of the card as much as the shifts its plot has on its characters, namely its star. Jack is dispassionate and objective enough throughout to make Ayn Rand proud, which is a nice way of saying he’s an opportunistic bastard playing all the angles. This is the Rosetta Stone for Owen’s future roles, a self-sufficient, intelligent man with a hidden smirk directed outwards against the world from his sympathetic performance amongst the chaos of “Children of Men” to his Oscar nominated turn as a predatory doctor with all the best lines in “Closer”. As the wild-card, the unspeakably sexy Alex Kingston (I have a thing for Alex Kingston) as the exotic mystery woman whose very presence should set off alarm bells and smoke detectors as she puts the story in motion.
Mike Hodges, a fixture in U.K. cinema dating back to the 60’s, re-introduces us to a character he’s dealt with previously in his original “Get Carter” with Michael Caine in the title role - a heartless professional who has a task to perform and does so wantonly and methodically and well.
“Croupier” is not a particularly striking film to look at, it does suffer from budget constraints in the same regard that I felt “American Psycho” did. What makes it a good film though is its commitment to the viewpoint of a true anti-hero, one who is memorable and highly quotable.
Is this a feel-good movie? Not really. But after a long hard day of traffic and bad coffee why don’t you blow off some steam spending the night with the company of a real mean son of a bitch. Who knows, Jack might even take that as a compliment. Enjoy.
Buy it here: Croupier