Perhaps the closest we may ever get to seeing Clive Owen as James Bond just might be in Mike Hodges’ cleverly written 1997 British heist/thriller. The one single role that placed Owen on the map (apart from a steadily building television presence) “Croupier” is a slickly intelligent and very well thought out piece of cinema as well as an intriguing look at the (almost labelled: criminal) underworld of gambling. Specifically casino gambling.
Clive Owen plays Jack Manfred, an ambitious but also depressed wannabe writer who takes up the job of a croupier at a small-scale casino in Central London. During his employment Jack uses the experiences at the casino as material for his novel which revolves around the world of a nameless figure, working as a croupier, who critiques the monetary society that surrounds him. His role however quickly becomes complicated when he begins a forbidden relationship with a client of the casino leading to an affair with his girlfriend which forces him into becoming involved with a planned heist at his workplace. Without spoiling the ending, “Croupier” is perhaps one of the most intriguing films to have been produced by a British studio in the 1990’s. Avoiding the popular energy of the fast-paced “Trainspotting” made one year earlier by Danny Boyle, Hodges direction of Paul Mayersberg’s script recreates an almost 60’s styled caper, which only assists in making the film stand out in look, style and tone.
As mentioned before, Clive Owen is at his swanky best in the movie, often wearing a tuxedo and, when out of work, a very detective styled ensemble (with an almost ridiculous looking hat) which is assisted by a mostly monotone narration from Owen himself. Perhaps almost acting as a slightly less stylized tribute to films such as Le Samourai or Blade Runner? The supporting cast are recognizable B-list British stars with plenty of talent that all stay within the confines of their characters as Croupier is Jack’s story, no one else’s. Doctor Who fans will be pleasantly surprised to see a young Alex Kingston playing the dangerous love interest that transports Jack into the murky world of crime. Gina McKee will also delight anyone who is a fan of under-known British actresses with her performance as the disapproving and controlling Gina (Jack’s girlfriend) is one to be very much admired.
Although its ending may leave the less-attentive viewer slightly confused with a revelation relating to a character only seen at the beginning of the film coming into play over an hour later; Croupier is a movie that captivates the viewer slowly overtime. Since the world of gambling is very much frowned upon by British society with casino’s being looked on as unholy landmarks that blot the poorest and wealthiest parts of the country, the audience member is sucked into a very engaging and eyebrow raising universe. Very few times is the question ever asked: who is the croupier? A person whose job it is to take from, and (even more rarely), give money back to strangers; a person who is not allowed to engage in conversation, a blank face that must only focus on the numbers. These are the themes that Mayversberg delves into. What is identity when it is offered money? What is morality if desperation is commonplace? Croupier doesn’t offer the perfect answer to these questions as there most likely isn’t one, but it certainly entertains us with possible solutions through the eyes of a very dynamic character, played skillfully by a talented Clive Owen.