Croupier (1998) – A Subtle Masterpiece
Clive Owen, a name that many people associate with King Arthur, made himself known in the movie industry after being cast as the lead role in the critically acclaimed British classic, Croupier. Released in 1998 and directed by Mike Hodges, the story of Croupier revolves around a struggling and aspiring writer who takes the job as a croupier at a casino in London at the request of his father. The movie details the main character’s struggle with writer’s block and his new job as a casino croupier.
A Hypnotising and Well-Pieced Narrative
The film takes a unique approach in its storytelling by having Manfred (Clive Owen) narrate his own story in the third person, sometimes by him, and sometimes by his alter ego, Jake. This approach to storytelling was made to give the main character a detached facade, using it to conceal the fragile person hidden behind it. A similar approach to progressing the story could be found in other movies released at the time, such as Fight Club and Goodfellas. Jack’s ‘monologuing’ in Croupier has been called a bit bland and uninteresting to listen to after a while, compared to Tyler Durden’s narration in Fight Club which has a more artistic flair to it.
The character of Manfred is complex and interesting, presenting many hidden layers to his personality. Born in South Africa, Manfred moved to London with his fiancée, Marion Neil. He has great knowledge of the casino gaming rules which he acquired from his father but, for unexplained reasons, refuses to gamble. The scenes of the movie were compiled together masterfully by the editor, Les Healey. He’s editing style manages to show the audience the duality of Clive Owen’s character and the struggle for dominance between Jack the writer and his alter ego, Jake the croupier and main character of his novel. The realistic way in which the movie represents the casino environment has received praise.
Mesmeric Acting and Characters
Paul Mayersberg wrote the script and provides a detailed look into the world of gambling and how Jack’s personality changes after he accepted the job as a croupier. During this time, he manages to overcome his writer’s block and putting together a story about the life of a croupier by using his own experiences as an inspiration. David Ansen from Newsweek, said that the movie is “coolly hypnotic and tautly directed”, explaining that movies, in general, do not have to scream out loud to grab people’s attention.
The comments and criticisms in Jack’s head carry the narrative forward, almost like a novel of itself being developed and written in real-time with every new event happening in Jack’s life. His refusal to gamble does not detract from life as a croupier, realizing that the events he experiences serve as a great source of inspiration for his novel. A truly captivating scene to witness is where Jack tries to impress the casino owner. He is given the task to sort and count the chips, as well as counting the cards in blackjack.
The last sequence at the roulette table leaves a great impact and many questions. Many think that Jake, the main character’s alter ego in the novel replaces his real-world counterpart. This could be seen in the calmness and contempt on his face which shows that he has become accustomed to the life of a croupier, his inner monologue saying “the spin of the wheel had brought him home to the place where he was born”.
Stumbling Beginnings and Later Acknowledgement
The film has had a rocky start when it was first released if one can call it that. It had a limited release in 1998 after which it was shelved for two years only to receive an “official” release in 2000. However, the movie was launched in the United States, receiving glowing reviews from both audiences and critics alike. Later, the movie received a proper British launch, with many critics praising Clive Owen’s performance as the lead character, propelling his acting career. The gaming sequences have also received praise, portraying the gaming experience realistically. Even to this day, the movie has not received the number of viewers it deserves. Since its release, the movie is considered a cult classic and one of the greatest British films during the 90s.