Well, here’s one you’ve simply got to see. As good a movie as I’ve seen in a long while.
To be honest I’d never heard of Mike Hodges before sitting down to watch this film and now I’m stuck with a nagging feeling that I’ve completely missed the boat somewhere along the way . Croupier is phenomenal. The direction is drum tight, the screenplay is intelligent, clever and dryly humorous, the cinematography is stylish and perfectly suited to the tone of the film and the performances are all solid. In other words this one isn’t missing anything.
On the surface it’s the tale of a writer, Jack (Clive Owen) who takes a job as a croupier (dealer) at a London casino on the urging of his father. Believing himself to be "above the crowd" Jack soon sees the workings of a novel in the seedy environment around him and dives into the manuscript with passion. As he works his way through the novel, he also falls deeper and deeper into the life of the casino. As this happens his life and the life of his protagonist Jake begin to converge and before he knows it Jack finds himself knee deep in a swirl of intrigue and dirty dealing which sets the stage for a clever, well wrought ending.
Without spoiling anything I’ll just say it’s worthwhile for the plot alone.
Beyond that this is an even richer film. Hodges and screenwriter Paul Mayersbeg combine their talents to produce a mutli-layered piece that is impossible to truly appreciate in one sitting. As much as I enjoyed it the first time, my second viewing revealed an even deeper layer of complexity and I’d be willing to bet a third viewing would reveal even more. The dialogue alone is enough to give one pause and the obvious symbolic palettes of the writer and the croupier are used intelligently. Add to that the consistent use of rich visual metaphors and you come away with a work that’s simply beyond the scope of a popular review. To be honest, there are so many threads running through this film it’s almost silly and would certainly be so if it weren’t for the fact that they are all handled skillfully and neatly, wrapping up in a somewhat surprising, but no less tight package by the film’s end. It’s a deft mixture of elements from the life of the writer, the croupier and the man that paints a full, fascinating portrait and offers no simple answers.
As high a recommendation as I can offer.
Originally published in May 2000 in Boston's Weekly Dig (now digBoston.)