Reviewed by Glenn Erickson
Croupier is a superior thriller with a interesting set of characters, a convincing setting and
something that few movies of its kind can muster these days - unpredictability.
Clive Owen (Gosford Park) is a writer unable to find the right subject until he takes up his old
way of life mannning the gaming tables in a swank London casino. His adventures lead him to three
different women and various opportunities for crime. How he handles the temptation makes for good
Stuck in his writing, Jack Manfred (Clive Owen) goes back to his tuxedoed life
running roulette wheels and blackjack tables. His girlfirend Marion (Gina McKee) disapproves,
but he excels on the gaming floor, showing everyone at the casino that he's an excellent croupier.
The other employees flaunt the fraternization and cheating rules, and Jack is himself tempted
by a female croupier named Bella (Kate Hardie), a dalliance which does no good for his homelife.
But a smart gambler named Jani (Alex Kingston) comes on the scene, bringing a criminal scheme
with her. Jack's back writing again, turning these adventures into good fiction. Will he go
through with the crime as the inside man?
A favorite older crime thriller about an inside man was 1978's The Silent Partner with
Elliot Gould and Christopher Plummer. Croupier combines that film's excitement with a
hardboiled surface of its own, courtesy of Paul Mayersberg's fine script. Jack Manfred's
voiceover steps into the 3rd person to dryly comment on himself and what's going on, in fine
Jim Thompson fashion. The story develops naturally and every plot turn and incident
is something we haven't seen very often, if at all. It really gets one's attention.
Our hero Jack is quiet and unresponsive but hides a desire to succeed that he cynically believes
will never be satisfied. He holds great pride in his work and likes the feeling of control over a
gambling world in which everyone seems to lose. He senses, but doesn't quite realize that his detachment
from his environment will make getting involved in a robbery scheme all too easy.
The atmosphere around the Casino is excellent, more compelling than last year's rather lightweight
The Cooler. The job of croupier is examined as a workaday
occupation with rewards and disadvantages. Jack's new boss is an interesting fellow easily
swayed by good croupier manners and slick work with the cards and chips. Gina McKee's girlfriend is
realistically demanding and nurturing, and understandably vexed by Jack's lack of emotion. Kate
Hardie's co-worker first tempts Jack into breaking the staff fraternization rules and eventually
blames him when somebody turns her in for cheating. But Alex Kingston's cautious gambler is a
winner that Jack admires, a player (or "punter") who knows just which buttons to
push to motivate Jack to do her bidding. All he has to do is help facilitate a distraction at
the right time.
But the smart dialogue and clever plotting are the best things here. Director Mike Hodges
(Get Carter) has things completely in control - the crime doesn't become an excuse for
excess violence or a Major Dramatic Statement. Croupier evokes the kind of thriller
pleasures found only in good hardboiled fiction.
Image and Shooting Gallery's DVD of Croupier looks fine, with a nicely-transferred image
that's unfortunately not 16:9 enhanced. The sound is especially clear, which is a good thing for
understanding the London pronunciations. There are no closed captions or subtitles to help out.
There aren't any extras either, but we worry less about those things when the movie plays so well.
On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor,
Sound: Very Good
Packaging: Keep case
Reviewed: March 9, 2004
DVD Savant Text © Copyright 2007 Glenn Erickson