#5: Croupier (1998)

An early Clive Owen film from 1998

Croupier (1998)

Available via Netflix DVD/Instant: Yes/Yes

One Line Synopsis: Jack, an aspiring author in need of a job, becomes a croupier (casino dealer) and enters a downward spiral that changes him and inspires his writing.

What Did You Miss?

Croupier is a subdued, murky, throwback film that attempts to meld similar classic fifties’ noir plot-lines and elegance with the shadowy underworld of gambling set in London.

Croupier‘s opening credit sequence (the video above) exhibits the dramatic tautness of an experienced director like Mike Hodges. Hodges may not be a household name but his eclectic career includes such divergent projects as the original Get Carter (the starring Michael Caine and not the one with Stallone) as well as the kitschy, campy Saturday afternoon cable movie favorite Flash Gordon.

Hodges’ best move was casting the up-and-coming Clive Owen. Owen may have come to the attention of the average film goer with his roles in a pair Oscar-nominated films in Robert Altman’s Gosford Park or Mike Nichol’s Closer but 5 years prior, Croupier garnered his first rave reviews as a leading man, earning a very healthy 74 on Metacritic.

Yes, that is Clive Owen with bleached blond hair.

Yes, he is now wearing a Boy George/Culture Club-era hat and suspenders. And once his hair goes brown and he puts on that tux and bow tie, Clive looks as clever and debonaire as ever. (NOTE: He would have made a fantastic Bond, not that Daniel Craig is a slouch.)

“A wave of elation came over him. He was hooked again… to watching people lose.” – Jack (voice-over)

Voice-overs such as this come from Croupier‘s narrator/protagonist Jack, a perceptive out-of-work writer with a sharp, observational tongue. I am a sucker for a high-quality narrator; someone with sardonic comic styling that often reflect my own worldview.  A really good voice over can make a movie, giving you motivational insights into brain of the film. Jack takes the cake in this regard.

Although not on purpose, the narrator manner of speech is reminiscent of a contemporary film character Jack, the one in Fight Club played by Edward Norton. (Coincidentally, Norton also played the gambling hound Worm in Rounders during the same period.)

“I want to live with a writer, not a croupier.” -Marion (Jack’s Girlfriend)

Croupier is a film right in my wheelhouse of thematic elements. A Neo-noir, transporting a 50s-Bogart-esque tale into modern-day London. Yet, the film has a throwback vibe throughout. It’s pace is steady. It’s lead character is steely and steadfast.

The biggest reason why I loved this film is Clive Owen. I’m a sucker for Clive Owen (see Thoughts and Notes for an extensive breakdown of this fact). I’m a sucker for gambling. I’m a sucker for failed writers. I’m a sucker for perceptive characters who don’t mince words. I’m a sucker for snarky bastards. I’m a sucker for low-budget films with quality characters and a decent story. And let’s not forget card tricks and conjuring. If you’re a sucker for this kind of plot elements and have about 90 minutes to spare, Croupier might just be the centerpiece for your next out-of-left-field movie night.

The Trailer (Sorry, not the best quality):

Click continue reading for random thoughts, discussion topics, and favorite scenes.

Continue reading