The Croupier (15)

Review by Simon Bell


FROM the gritty northern gangsterism of Get Carter, to the plush but sleazy world of London's gambling houses, via an American football star who saves the world (Flash Gordon), a team of aliens who become unlikely chat show stars (Morons From Outer Space), a former IRA killer pulling off one last job (A Prayer For The Dying) and a murder-solving psychic (Black Rainbow), Mike Hodges proves, if nothing else, that his work is as heterogeneous as they come.

Croupier sees Clive Owen as Jack Manfred, the aspiring writer/disinclined croupier who battles with writers' block and prepares to take the biggest chance of his life.

Finding himself drawn into the murky life of the casino, the job gradually takes over his life while his relationship with girlfriend Marion (Gina McKee, never out of work these days) starts to show cracks.

Jani (Alex Kingston, nice South African accent) is a gambler who catches his eye before asking him to be the inside man for a planned heist at said place of work. Not knowing the hand he'll be dealt, Manfred decides to have a flutter.

Despite his dashing good looks, Owen can often look a tad gormless, but he's helped here by Hodges' stunning visuals: his dichotomy constantly stressed by the gambling den's endless wall of mirrors.

Elsewhere, Kate Hardie, usually so miserably unconvincing, deserves credit, while Alexander Morton, as the man they have to answer to, does his best.

The casino itself is a seedy underworld where smoke hangs in the air, the only sound that of the roulette wheel: a soporific purr that penetrates the silence and hypnotizes all those that survey it. (Has gambling ever been shot so seductively?).

But as the film's style scores points, its voice-over (never as entertaining as that of Scorsese's casino) and momentary lapses into cliche (spinning wheel of misfortune as metaphor for life) loses them in equal measure.

Although reluctant to lay the blame squarely with Paul Mayersberg's otherwise compelling screenplay, the one-liners are not exactly cut-throat and the Jack/Jake duality of the central character often seems ill-advised.

Raising a storm on its first outing Stateside, within these shores on its second it will probably only manage a gentle breeze.

Nevertheless, it still stands head and shoulders above its more fortunate, but artistically bankrupt, Lock Stock-alike co-existents.