‘Hang on tightly, let go lightly’, a fortune cookie motto never quite followed by Clive Owen’s Jack Manfred, the titular anti-hero of the film. Croupier is a modern classic, a fine piece of post post-noir film-making. This understated yet thoroughly original thriller follows Jack, an aspiring writer who falls back on his croupier skills to take a job in a small time casino, letting us into the mindset of his profession,and then some.

The film opens with Jack interviewing for and being offered the casino job to the surprise of his girlfriend, Marion who exclaims “don’t you need training for that?” Little does she know that Jack has had all the training he will ever need at the hands of his father (Nicholas Ball), a hard-drinking and hard-gambling womanizer who still casts a shadow over his son’s life. Initially removing himself from life after dark at the casino, preferring to stand back and gather material for his novel, Jack becomes more involved in its machinations as the film progresses.

He breaks house rules about socializing and liaising with staff members and casino clients: drinking with a fellow croupier who is cheating the house, initiating a sexual relationship with a dealer, Bella (Kate Hardie), and becoming drawn into the web of the glamorous and reckless Jani De Villiers (Alex Kingston). This South African client has a plan to cheat the casino, and Jack is just the right inside-man to help her.

As the narrator and central figure of the film, Clive Owen gives what I would consider to be a career defining performance. Bringing to mind Sean Connery in the earlier Bond films, his croupier is measured and detached, never quite committing himself fully to the action playing out around him. He looks the part too, with slicked-back dark hair and symmetrically handsome looks, but his aloofness and self-serving way of living does make you wonder why Marion (Gina McKee in a fine performance) chooses to stand by him.

Directed by Mike Hodges (yes, that version of Get Carter) and written by The Man Who Fell to Earth’s Paul Mayersberg, Croupier initially only had a limited British release. After becoming a bit of an art-house smash a few years later in the U.S it got re-released again on British shores, seducing audiences with its stylish portrayal of London after-hours.

The lasting appeal of Croupier lies not so much in the plot, which is actually well-paced and successful in conveying and developing the thriller aspects of the storyline, but in the characters, the atmosphere and its cinematography. The film really is a masterclass in filmmaking, at moments you feel like Hodges is toying with Jack, punishing him for believing that he can observe and control his own life and ultimately novelize it. Subtle and nuanced, Croupier is a film by grown-ups for grown-ups. The final act contains an unexpected twist or two building to a not-entirely satisfactory ending, but it does leave the audience feeling little sympathy for Jack who, despite all his ambition, is still continuing to live in that same basement flat.

About The Author

Simon Fitzjohn

Simon is a journalism tutor in London, who also just happens to be a movie fanatic, with a craving for the darker side of cinema. He has written two books, one on the horror films of director Bob Clark (2014) and the other on the history of the character Norman Bates (2015). His third book, on the work of British exploitation director Pete Walker, is due in 2017.