Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (April 2, 2004)
Talk about a long time coming! Croupier premiered in 1998, went onto UK screens in 1999, made it to US theaters in 2000, and came out on DVD in 2001, I believe. However, in an unusual move, one could get it only through the online rental service Netflix. They enjoyed what I thought would be a brief period of exclusivity, but ďbriefĒ ended up being longer than anticipated.
ĒBriefĒ turned out to last about three years. Croupier finally became available in a non-Netflix setting in March 2004... with the same disc that we found from the rental service. Whether thatís good or bad will be an issue for the second half of this review. Right now Iíll look at the movie itself.
Croupier focuses on a struggling writer named Jack Manfred (Clive Owen), who lives with his girlfriend Marion (Gina McKee). His Dad (Nicholas Ball) arranges for Jack to get an interview to work as a dealer at the Golden Lion Casino. Jack meets with the manager, David Reynolds (Alexander Morton), and uses his prior experience to land the gig.
Jack learns some rules about working at the casino. Heís not allowed to fraternize with gamblers or fellow employees outside of the job, and he also must report any form of employee cheating if observed. Jack violates these rules pretty quickly. He goes to a party with a sleazy, opportunistic croupier named Matt (Paul Reynolds) and has a one night stand with cynical croupier Bella (Kate Hardie). Jack also runs into a sexy South African gambler named Jani (Alex Kingston) outside of work, and the pair develop a relationship.
Matters go downhill with Marion. Jackís experiences inspire him to write a book about his job, and she doesnít like it. Bella gets fired and blames Jack. Because of this, she comes by his apartment and reveals the tryst to Marion, who leaves him.
In the meantime, he fools around with Jani and becomes somewhat attached to her. She presents a proposal from her creditors to rob the Golden Lion. Her group needs an inside man and will pay him 20,000 pounds for his assistance. The rest of the movie follows the various relationships and what Jack decides to do in regard to the heist.
While Croupier presents an interesting scenario, it does little with it to provoke something of interest. It reminds me of a more recent flick about the British working class, Dirty Pretty Things. Both addressed people in the working classes, and both offered plots that dealt with intrigue. In Things, the story felt like something of a MacGuffin, as it concentrated most heavily on the lives of its characters. Croupier canít quite decide on what it wants to focus, which makes it somewhat mushy and ill defined.
As I noted, I like the concept behind the film. Plenty of movies examine casinos from the point of view of the gamblers, so itís cool to look at those establishments from the dealer perspective. Unfortunately, the movie doesnít concentrate on this area to any significant degree, as it mostly works on Jackís experiences.
That would be fine if these developed to any compelling degree, but they donít. Jack comes across as a flat and undeveloped character. The movie plays out his personality as calculated and somewhat soulless but fails to go anywhere. Croupier presents awkward and obvious exposition such as Jackís disdain for gambling, and the various metaphors fall flat.
The story comes across as simplistic and undeveloped. It uses narration to help push things along, but this just leads to forced exposition. Ultimately, the narration seems cheesy and creates more of a hindrance than a help.
Croupier wants to be dark and cynical, but it feels too obvious and artificial. It never earns its attitude, mainly because it uses elements as some form of shorthand to compensate for its weak development. At times it comes across like a parody of a film noir, but I donít think the filmmakers intended that. It appears weíre supposed to take it seriously, but they donít earn that respect.
One positive aspect of the film comes from Owenís performance. He makes Jack nicely low-key and gritty, and he almost makes the story feel like it has some depth and consequence. The other actors seem decent as well, but Owenís work gives the flick its only signs of life.
Otherwise, Croupier comes across as a bland disappointment. We get some interesting twists at the end, but these are too little, too late, and they feel like weak attempts to be clever. They fail, and the movie remains a good concept saddled by flat execution.