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Croupier

February 26, 2011

Croupier (1998)
Director: Mike Hodges
Actors: Clive Owen, Gina McKee, Alex Kingston

croupier_39.jpg (340×231)

Synopsis: Jack Manfred (Clive Owen), an aspiring writer in London, gets himself a job as a croupier in a casino to earn more money.

Review: Admittedly Croupier may not be to everyone’s taste – it certainly has a very hardboiled, masculine sensibility, and its slippery narrative is bound to frustrate viewers looking for conventional plot and character arcs. It does, however, make undeniably great use of its gambling and writing themes, and finds Clive Owen in electric, career-defining form as the ice-cool, laconic croupier at the centre of the whirling narrative.

Not surprising given that its helmsman, Mike Hodges, is an industry veteran synonymous with British cinema in the seventies (he famously directed Michael Caine in Get Carter), Croupier has a distinctly pared down, thriller feel, with very little in the way of soundtrack, no flashy editing, and a return to the use of sharp focuses which seemed to go out of cinematic fashion by the end of the seventies. This lends Croupier a very lean and literary edge – strangely appropriate for a film about a writer who only finds his true creative juices by submitting himself to the seedy nocturnal atmosphere of the casino and its associated vices, when he decides to become a croupier. Taken literally, the film could be seen as a bit crass with some bizarre shifts in tone (Owen’s croupier has an amusingly choreographed punch-up with a patron outside the casino one night, and later in the narrative his girlfriend dies abruptly), but it makes more sense if understood from the perspective through which all this action is framed – the increasingly lurid and fantastical first person narration of the croupier himself. And Owen totally nails that conceit – giving his voiceover exactly the right sort of gleefully detached and misanthropic edge, which suitably mirrors the playful and subversive thrust of the narrative. (February 2011)

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