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movie reviewmovie reviewmovie review out of 4 Movie Review: Croupier

Starring: Clive Owen, Alex Kingston
Director: Mike Hodges
Rated: R
RunTime: 91 Minutes
Release Date: April 2000
Genres: Cult, Drama, Suspense

*Also starring: Paul Reynolds, Gina McKee, Kate Hardie, Nicholas Ball

Review by Harvey Karten
No Rating Supplied

Here on Manhattan island where I see virtually all of my films, "Croupier" is playing at only one movie house--which speaks novels about what studios consider the taste of even the sophisticated moviegoing public of New York. U-571, a well-made techno-thriller which the NY Times critic astutely calls a movie "without a brain in its head" and one suitable for "kids," is sending people to the box office with the speed of a torpedo. "Croupier" on the other hand is one of those noir films that might be called a sleeper, perhaps because of insufficient marketing--a gamble its producers were afraid to make.

Featuring a cast of first-rate performers largely unknown to an American audience, the picture is directed by Mike Hodges, whose "Get Carter" back in 1970 is (like his current feature) a lean drama--one featuring Michael Caine as a small-time gangster investigating his brother's death. Though the 68-year-old British director's output has been meager, his "Get Carter" and his "Croupier" demonstrate his taste for realistic action and technical pizazz.

Employing a technique used by playwright Eugene O'Neill in his experimental work "Strange Interlude," Hodges has his title character narrate his thoughts, allowing us to get to know him better. At several points in this fast-moving melodrama, Jack Manfred (Clive Owen) would make comments to his girl friend Marion (Gina McKee), to his dad (Nicholas Ball), and to the sexy South African gambler Jani de Villiers (Alex Kingston), only to subvert his remarks with wry, narrative reflections. Through Jack's inner musings and outward commentary, we learn not only quite a bit about this fascinating person but receive abundant information about the goings-on of gaming casinos in much the way that "Airport" instructs us about the world of the airline industry.

Jack Manfred, who is in virtually every scene, is at heart a writer who is blocked because, being jobless, he seems to have nothing to write about. His inspiration comes when he takes employment as a croupier, or casino operator, a gig which he father urges him to grab given the young man's inability to make a go behind his laptop. Showing a natural ability to manipulate a deck of cards, he is hired by a London casino owner who likes what he sees. Jack himself never gambles, choosing to get his kicks not from winning or, as some psychologists hold, by self-destructively losing, but by watching his customers forfeit their shirts. He recognizes that the odds always favor the house and is particularly bewildered by his girl friend's custom of buying lottery tickets despite the odds of 42 million to one.

Hodges' picture possesses the elements of the noir genre, including a femme fatale, an eternal cigarette in the mouth of its protagonist, and filming that takes place almost exclusively at night or in indoor spaces. Most of all, "Croupier" is an exercise in cynicism, featuring a plot with a wonderful surprise ending that proves that nice guys often lose, adding that a solid sense of humor can go a long way toward alleviating the damage. Clive Owen is made for the role. With hair dyed black and a tuxedo that fits him like his own skin, Owen could be the next James Bond--except that in his current role he is even more detached than his fictional fellow countryman, too wound up with inner debates and exploited vulnerabilities. "Croupier" is a thriller without car chases or explosions which works as an intense, swiftly-paced winner. The picture lets us in on as much as we need to know about a novelist whose losing life undergoes a radical change after he takes a job that most people of his station would never consider.

(C) 2000 by Harvey Karten,

Copyright 2000 Harvey Karten

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