The world of casinos has always been a popular setting for films that want to explore the darker and more dangerous side of the human psyche. Numerous Bond films over the years have featured casinos, and of course Casino Royale is where it all began. Even the relatively light-hearted caper movies in the Ocean’s Eleven series have that unsettling feeling of risk, that things could all go wrong very quickly.

A growing fascination

Over the past 20 years, our interest in casino culture has only increased. Perhaps technology is responsible – after all, these days, you don’t even have to leave your home to go to a casino, and the TV and internet is full of casino welcome bonus offers, all neatly laid out before you on sites like Bonus.co.uk.

Is it any coincidence, then, that just as the casino revolution was getting underway in the late 90s, possibly one of the darkest movies of its time was released? It does what the British film industry does best, by providing a no-holds-barred insight into the world of casinos from the inside looking out.

About Croupier

Released in 1999, the movie stars the ever-reliable Clive Owen as a struggling writer who accepts a job in a casino working as a croupier to earn some extra money. Owen says he spent months in and around casinos to research the role, and the close attention to detail is plain for all to see in the end result.

Owen’s character, Jack Manfred, is the ultimate anti-hero. The guy repeatedly tells people that he “doesn’t gamble,” but as the film progresses, we come to realise that there is more to gambling than placing chips in a casino.

The decisions that Manfred makes in his personal life are little short of disastrous, and we can only watch in horror as his world spirals out of control. His girlfriend is bitter at his “selling out” and giving up on becoming a writer, and in the meantime, he becomes involved with a feisty colleague and a predatory customer.

All the while, he is all chiselled good looks and cold, emotional detachment, as he narrates the story in the third person, providing an all-seeing interface between the bosses behind the casino and the customers he is there to serve.

By the end the worlds have collided in ways that are at the same time heart-wrenching and inevitable.

Made for the job

Manfred is certainly not a likeable character, but that doesn’t mean we can’t empathise. We feel every moment he goes through, and Clive Owen deserves more recognition for the understated feeling of quiet desperation he brings to the role.

Croupier might not have the razzmatazz of Danny Ocean or the shoot outs and witty one liners of James Bond, but if you want a warts and all look at the less glamorous side of casino life, there are no better films. If you’ve never seen it, it’s well worth seeking out and if you have, it must be due for a rewatch!

 

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.