Directed by Mike Hodges
Review by Matt Heffernan
When we see James Bond in a casino, smoothly ordering his martini while holding a pair of dice in one hand and a beautiful woman in the other, we hardly notice the man on the other side of the table. Perhaps his story is worth some attention. That's what Mike Hodges has banked on with his latest film, which has finally come to America.
Jack Manfred (Clive Owen) is a writer whose publisher wants him to write a novel. A conventional soccer story is suggested, and Jack agrees, but writing such mindless tripe proves to be difficult. His father (Nicholas Ball) back in South Africa has a friend who runs a casino in London, and he suggests that the gambling-savvy Jack take a job there.
The job is well-suited to him, even if he is a recovering gambling addict. Croupiers (dealers) aren't allowed to gamble themselves, but Jack's newfound dedication (and inspiration for a new novel) keeps him distracted. It doesn't help his homelife with his girlfriend, Marion (Gina McKee), who works a day shift and never sees him awake. His life becomes further complicated by a fling with a co-worker (Kate Hardie) and an involvement with a customer (Alex Kingston) -- both forbidden relationships. The latter one puts him in the middle of a scheme that can jeopardize his career, his relationship, and his life.
The bulk of Croupier deals with Jack's analysis of his situation, which is delivered through his third-person narration. He is a character in several levels of crisis, and this intimate portrait is often fascinating. Owen maintains a calm exterior throughout, which is appropriate for the character, but grows tiresome after some time. The film is a bit stretched, even at barely 90 minutes.
The supporting cast adds some much-needed color, especially Kingston as the mysterious gambler. Unlike the second-rate Noah Wyle look-alike in Road Trip, fans of "E.R." have a real castmember to watch make an impressive performance on film. The relationship between her character and Jack is hard to determine throughout the film, until a rather strange twist ending. It's not as preposterous as some of Hollywood's most recent attempts, but it doesn't play as well as it should.
For such a quiet film, one can't expect a big payoff, even if there was a little action thrown in at the end. Croupier is still a satisfying experience, especially compared to most of the fare playing in your local cineplex.
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Review © 2000 Matt Heffernan