Croupier Probably Isn’t Anything Like You’ve Seen Before
I don’t know what it is about casinos, but a lot of writers and filmmakers sure love setting sad or dark stories there. Perhaps it’s the coldness and ruthlessness of gambling as a pursuit, but it sure seems to attract a lot of degenerates and crime. Croupier, this British noir movie from all the way back in 1994 starring a very young Clive Owen, follows that same pattern. At first glance of the trailer, it seems like a grittier James Bond derivative, but it’s actually more forlorn than that. We’ll get to it in a moment, later on in this review.
Before anything, you may be wondering what a croupier is. It’s basically a fancy word for a dealer at the table in casinos. A croupier originally stood behind a player, ready to give him extra cash or chips should he run out, but it eventually evolved into what we now know as a dealer. They could’ve easily called the movie Dealer, but that probably doesn’t have the same impact as Croupier.
Anyway, in this film, Clive Owen plays Jack Manfred, a (surprise, surprise) a croupier who only got the job after his writing career didn’t really end up going anywhere.
In his new job at the casino, he turns into a degenerate; he allows his fellow croupiers to cheat, he sleeps with a female coworker, and ultimately, befriends a casino regular (something that’s not allowed, for obvious reasons) that leads to him being used as an insider for a robbery at the casino.
He loses his girlfriend over the change in his personality brought about by working at the casino.
Jack’s girlfriend tries to stay with him, but soon gets killed in an accident following the successful casino robbery. It turns out that Jack becoming a croupier was really to set up by his own father the entire robbery. Jack gets his book published, he makes a lot of money, but he ends up apparently feeling empty by the end of the film, and he doesn’t take advantage of all the money he got from everything.
If the movie’s story sounds completely strange and atypical to you, that’s because that’s just how British films are. An American reviewer used to American tropes may not completely understand how the British mind works. They don’t really follow typical patterns, there isn’t always a happy ending (because they’re not really compelled to do it that way), and movies end up being more mind-boggling than a viewer will ask for. It may be a confusing film to some who watch it, but that really is how it goes.
Croupier is a film that pays homage to noir movies of old, cribbing a whole style in which the protagonist talks a lot and extrapolates on his innermost thoughts and feelings to drive the movie’s story forward. It’s definitely a stylistic decision that most reviewers, including this one, love a lot. This may not be one of Clive Owen’s most memorable movies ever, but he, as the consummate professional and slick actor that he is, carries it with that unmistakable yet cold, controlled British swagger that you can help but feel that this is a film to really pay attention to. You might have to watch it a few more times to put out a proper review on it, especially if you’re not used to a movie like this.
In fact, Croupier is a movie that isn’t really meant to be digested by the story.
Its top reviews owe the film’s power to the fact that director Mike Hodges is able to bring about a real thorough establishment of the atmosphere, setting, and characterization of each personality. At the end of the day, that’s what makes a good noir film anyway; the story can have all its twists and turns, but the real draw is the mystery of each player, how they work, how they operate, how they think, how they fit into their dark, gritty world. Of course, it’s nothing like the super-dark noir movies of the 1930s and 1940s, but it’s a product of its own time, for sure.
If you want to watch a film that will leave itself in your brain, chewing at your immediate sanity as you try to digest it, Croupier is definitely worth a watch. Like I’ve been saying in this entire article, it’s not your typical casino caper, even though it’s dark. And the good thing is that not every movie set in a casino has to be; it doesn’t always have to deal with mobsters (although there is crime), it doesn’t have to involve some criminal underworld. Sometimes a look through the eyes of an ordinary human being, with ordinary human emotions, will be enough for a compelling story. Go check it out.
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