Everyone gambles, whether they realise it or not. It’s an addiction. Although most people think it’s the customer who has the compulsion, it’s sometimes the person on the other side of the table—the croupier.
Directed by Mike Hodges (Get Carter, Flash Gordon), Croupier stars Clive Owen as Jack, a young writer struggling to write the big novel. Through his father, Jack finds a job at a London casino where, having had previous experience, he quickly excels. The casino manager gives Jack several rules, which he breaks; these include not socialising with other employees and not acknowledging punters outside of the casino. As he gets further and further into the adrenal rush of the job, he starts to peel through his book while his relationship with his girlfriend disintegrates.
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Further trouble comes when he begins to see a customer outside of work. Jani (Alex Kingston of Doctor Who fame) appears to be independently wealthy and living the high life; however, she has some debts that need to be paid to some very dangerous people. And to do that, she needs Jack’s help.
Hodges’ film is an excellent example of modern-day neo-noir. Jack is very much the anti-hero; he’s cool, handsome, has exceptional skills, and even has a trenchcoat and a fedora. Classic film noir wardrobe. He’s also a lot less clever than he thinks, leading him down the spiralling path the film takes. The lone man who thinks he can take on the world.
Owen is excellent in the role, effortlessly exuding charm and cool, as well as the odd sociopathic tendency, which is probably why many people saw the film and decided he’d make a good James Bond. He also narrates the film (another noir trope), which gives it an irresistible feel, allowing the audience to get sucked into the narrative and on the side of Jack, who – like noir protagonists – is not an incredibly nice guy.
Gina McKee is excellent as Jack’s girlfriend, as is Kate Hardie as a fellow croupier who pulls him into extra-marital activities. Also good is Paul Reynolds (who, for Gen Xers, used to be in Press Gang) as a loudmouth dealer who enjoys breaking all the rules possible. And then there’s Alex Kingston, who is outstanding in the femme fatale role, with an innate sense of both confident sexiness and vulnerability that immediately hooks Jack – or, more accurately, Jack’s ego.
Paul Mayersberg’s script is excellent, and Hodges’ direction is as good as it’s been, recalling the confidence and street smarts of Get Carter and Michael Caine’s similar anti-hero protagonist. It’s superbly paced and whips along, even as a reasonably short film – the running length is 94 minutes. Mike Garfarth’s smooth cinematography gives the film a heightened feel with a slightly muted colour tone. At the same time, Simon Fisher-Turner’s experimental score provides the film with a certain amount of tension.
Arrow Video has given Croupier a brand new restoration from a 4K scan of the original 35mm camera negative, approved by director Hodges. It looks and sounds fantastic, with the moody tone and detail allowing you to notice some of the shifting colour grades of Garfarth’s photography. The 5.1 audio track is excellent and immersive, making you feel like you really are inside a casino.
Plenty of bonus features inhabit the two discs, with two audio commentaries, one by Hodges and one by critic Josh Nelson, along with interviews with Hodges, Hardie, and Mayersberg. These give some interesting tidbits; for example, Mayersberg’s original script was offered to Clint Eastwood, and while he later wanted James Coburn, he could not raise the money. There’s also the theatrical trailer, and then on disc two, you get an excellent documentary called Mike Hodges: A Film-Maker’s Life, which has the director look back at the highs and lows of his career.
Croupier is a fantastic film, a brilliant neo-noir, and a thrilling time at the pictures. Arrow’s set is worth cashing in your chips for and has a brilliant presentation and great extras. Recommended.