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  • Benjamin May

Croupier (1998) Review

Jack is an aspiring writer struggling to finish his debut novel. To make ends meet, he takes up employment as a croupier at a local casino- a job for which he has some ability. Jack is drawn into the action-packed world of gambling like a moth to flame, to the detriment of his relationship with his girlfriend Marion. As he becomes more involved with the casino and its inhabitants, Jack's life becomes increasingly complex and dangerous. Surrounded by cheats, card-sharps and cads, will Jack be able to beat the odds and finish his book, or will the house win again; leaving him with nothing?

Directed by Mike Hodges from a screenplay by Paul Meyersberg, 'Croupier' is a stylish crime drama that- at its best- effectively harkens back to the golden age of film noir. Meyersberg's narrative is full of deception and uncertainty, while his characters are cynical creatures motivated by greed and ambition. He uses Jack's tale to explore the seedy underbelly of contemporary London, where everyone is trying to con someone, and nobody wants to lose. Like Fred MacMurray's Walter Neff in 'Double Indemnity', Owen's Jack is our nihilistic gateway and guide to this sordid city of inequity, and like with Neff, we know his story probably won't have a happy ending.

This is not to say that Meyersberg's screenplay is without fault, or that his narrative is thoroughly engaging, however. The third act drags quite a bit and features a 'twist' so obvious and unnecessary that it cheapens all that came before it. Furthermore, his secondary characters aren't developed particularly well, seeming like dimly defined background noise. Jack's father, for instance, is more of a plot device than anything else, with little to no personality or depth. A sub-plot involving a fellow croupier named Matt initially seems important, before fading into absolute nothingness. It seems Meyersberg wasn't sure what direction to take some aspects of the story; so just left them mid-stream to flounder.

'Croupier' fares better in terms of visuals, having atmospheric production design and cinematography throughout. Director of photography Michael Garfath's utilization of close-ups, zooms and alternate angles in the gambling sequences heightens the narrative tension, while his spirited, inventive use of shadows, low-key lighting, and tilted angles helps maintain the film's thematic links to film noir. Coupled with Jon Bunker's lush production design- which makes terrific use of contrasting lighting, spaces and colours- 'Croupier' boasts consistently strong visuals that linger in the mind long after the credits have rolled.

As do the performances, especially that of star Clive Owen. Cold, calculating, but not without a certain charm, he masterfully underplays the role of Jack. With his detached voice-over-narration and laid-back demeanour, he plays Jack as the classic noir anti-hero and has the audience on side from the get-go. Gina McKee, Kate Hardie and Paul Reynolds also shine in their roles, giving commendable performances that elevate their characters beyond the screenplay and Meyersberg's scant secondary characterization.

With its nihilistic, cynical tone and assured, stylish cinematography, Mike Hodges's 'Croupier' is a tense crime drama that entertains and intrigues in equal measure. Though it may have a few issues- particularly regarding pacing and the structure of Paul Meyersberg's screenplay, which lags in the third act- this strongly acted, atmospheric film is a must watch for fans of film noir or Clive Owen. If 'Rounders', 'The Gambler' or 'Casino Royale' didn't satiate your lust for gambling movies, then go look for 'Croupier;' it's a bet that's sure to pay off.


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