Letting the Chips Fall – Rediscovering ‘Croupier’ (UK 1998 – 94 mins)

Posted in Rediscover by - March 19, 2015
Letting the Chips Fall – Rediscovering ‘Croupier’ (UK 1998 – 94 mins)

Ever since I first saw ‘The Sting’ (’73) as a child I’ve always loved gambling related movies, especially if they have a clever twist in them. A couple of favourites are the western-themed ‘A Big Hand for the Little Lady’ and Jack Smight’s under-rated ‘Kaleidoscope’ (both ’66). A more recent favourite is Mike Hodges excellent ‘Croupier’, which I think is one of the best and most under-rated British movies of the 1990’s.

After would-be writer Jack Manfred (Clive Owen) takes a job as a croupier, he finds the work is soon taking over his life, causing his relationship with girlfriend Marion (Gina McKee) to suffer. He soon begins work on a novel based on his observations in and around the casino. One night he befriends Jani (Alex Kingston), a South African gambler who begs Jack to be the inside man for a robbery at his casino, with the promise of a £20,000 payoff.

A Noir for the Nineties, ‘Croupier’ was originally released without much fanfare, though it’s an easy film to follow and wholly enjoyable, pulling you right in to this underworld we rarely get to see. Clive Owen had a terrific early role here as Jack, a wannabe writer quietly observing all those around him, while picking up ideas for his debut novel. His detached character reminds me of Elliot Gould’s quiet bank teller in ‘The Silent Partner’ (’79), as they both play seemingly quiet character’s who end up with the upper hand. It was also nice to have a movie where there were three strong female characters. Gina McKee was excellent as Marion, Owen’s caring girlfriend who sadly meets an unfortunate end, while Kate Hardie was also good as fellow croupier Belle, who Jack has a one-night stand with. Sexy Alex Kingston was very convincing as a devious South African businesswoman who may not be what she first appears. Seventies star Nicholas Ball was ideal as Owen’s shady father, and Paul Reynolds was perfectly cast as Jack’s corrupt co-worker.

‘Croupier’ was directed with great atmosphere by veteran Mike Hodges, whose impressive credits include ‘Get Carter’ (’71), ‘The Terminal Man’ (’74), and the cult comic-strip ‘Flash Gordon’ (’80). The expert screenplay was by former film critic Paul Mayersberg, and was full of both realism and depth, especially in Jack’s knowing narration throughout the movie. The excellent cinematography by Michael Garfath was most evident in the casino scenes which were very well shot, and included some impressive close-ups highlighting the sleight-of-hand skills of the croupier at work.

A dark and tough movie with bursts of brutality, ‘Croupier’ is an outstanding film that has rightly gained a minor following over the years, and has a very pleasing ending that leaves a wry smile on your face.

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