I’ve always viewed Clive Owen as something of a ‘nearly man’ – he has headlined numerous enjoyable films (the likes of King Arthur and Shoot ‘Em Up spring to mind), often bringing a world-weariness to other roles that elevates the project he is involved in (from older films like The Bourne Identity right through to modern fare such as Anon).

But he never seems to have broken through, made that step into the real ‘A league’. If anything, one of the films that should have pushed him into that category was Croupier, a dark offering from 1999 that takes us into the supposedly glamorous world of casinos.

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 no deposit casino bonus  offers.

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.

Released in 1999, the movie stars 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 a true 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 life 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 good looks contrasted with cold, emotional detachment, as he narrates the story in the third person, providing an all-seeing link between the bosses behind the casino and the punters he is there to serve.

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

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, but is an effective portrayal and if this piece pushes more people to check it out, then it is job done in my book.

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 three books - on the horror films of director Bob Clark (2014), the history of the character Norman Bates (2015) and the work of British exploitation director Pete Walker (2017). He is currently working with director Richard Loncraine to explore all avenues in a bid to orchestrate the re-release of 1978 Mia Farrow chiller Full Circle