Retro Review: Croupier

Yet another British import amazes me in its storytelling. This film may have one up on “Rounders”.

A very interesting and captivating Clive Owen stars in this British drama set in the world of casinos and gambling. Owen plays Jack, an immigrated South African who is down on his luck and is doing his best to pull his life together so he can write the next great novel. Jack decides he must use his card-dealing talents he learned in South Africa to support himself.

But as he re-enters the world of gambling he decides he will play the straight and narrow till he can finish his book. What Jack doesn’t realize is that the late nights and seedy underbelly of casinos is ready to pull Jack into a world he doesn’t want to be in. Can Jack balance a normal life as a writer and the new lifestyle threatening to destroy him?

“Croupier” means “card dealer” and for many of us we may have never heard of this term. This could be a very big reason why the film was completed in 1998 and only released in the US and Canada recently.

Throughout the whole film Jack delivers a narration dialogue that is conveyed as his exact thoughts. This narration acts as a conscience/”how-to” discussion of the events surrounding Jack. I loved these moments because we could really see the very subtle conflict developing within Clive Owen’s amazing portrayal. This was a hero the audience could delve into. His many layers of conflict and frustration really were conveyed in a miraculous way.

“Croupier’s” tiny budget really never bogged down the production but instead made the film focus more on its leading man and the relationships surrounding him. This guy becomes involved with three women throughout the film and like a lot of European films the scenes do involve nudity. The nudity is plain and natural and does reflect the essence of the story.

Owen’s supporting trio of ladies are all great actresses and makes me want to see them in other projects. The first is Jack’s displaced girlfriend, Marion (Notting Hill’s Gina McKee), who is trying to survive during the couple’s conflicting schedules.

The second is Bella (The Kray’s Kate Hardie), who is a very restrained fellow croupier who has a very tumultuous past. But the most famous of the three is Jani (Alex Kingston of TV’s ER), who is a professional card player. What was interesting is that none of these ladies ever rose above the other to become more significant in Jack’s life.

The film never fully explores each of them in explicit detail. This does beg the question, how do we know which one is best for our complicated hero.

The ending scenes for “Croupier” meander on to long and seem to throw to many plot flips to really make the audience lap up the film. I wish the film refocused and encouraged Jack’s character to uncover some of the skeletons found in some of the femme fatales’ closets.

I would have loved to see more uncovering of Bella and Marion’s pasts which seemed to be delivered in just two or three sentences of dialogue. Like the scene where Bella takes Jack back to her apartment and she reveals she was a lady of the night. This pivotal sentence is dropped and Jack just kisses her goodnight. This could have been a great subplot jumping point.

Overall Croupier is one of the best films I have seen in the past month and I continue to be amazed by the British cinema.

(4 out of 5)

So Says the Soothsayer.

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