know a lot of people like the ones that appears in Mike
Hodges' Croupier, a movie about a novelist who takes a job as a casino
dealer (or croupier) when he runs out of money. The people in Croupier
are losers. There's really no other way to describe them. Everyone is a loser in
one form or another, every single one of them beaten by the house. What's worst,
they're blind losers. They've forgotten the wisest advice when it comes to
gambling: "The house always wins." I learned this long ago when
I stopped gambling and betting on sports altogether. That was about 6 years ago,
and since then I haven't placed a bet on anything since, no matter how minor.
Why? Because the house always wins; the bookie always wins; and it's only the
blind fools who continue to play, hoping against hope that they'll somehow buck
the odds, never realizing the simple fact that the reason casinos remain open
and get richer is because you can't beat the house.
Croupier stars Clive Owen as Jack Manfred, a
novelist with a background in casino dealing. People might know Owen from his
BMW mini-movies/commercials where Owens plays a nameless Driver (of a BMW, of
course). Owen's Jack is seeking the proverbial great novel but of course it's
not easy to be a struggling novelist, even when you're shacking up with a
girlfriend who has given up everything to devote herself to your dream.
forced to get a job at a London casino, where his past as a card shark ensures
his employment. Jack was born to a gambler and Jack has learned his father's
skills, only Jack refuses to gamble, on anything -- or so he says. Everything
seems to be going fine and Jack is getting material for his book, until a woman
begins to manipulate her way into Jack's life, bringing a host of problems along
with her. Just who is playing who here?
If there is one thing that can be said about Croupier
it's that the film is very tight, with all unnecessary baggage snipped away in
editing, and the result is a movie that moves at a brisk, entertaining pace.
Owen does narration as Jack, talking to the audience as if he's reading passages
from his unfinished novel. The movie takes place almost exclusively at night and
there is an edge here, a gritty, down-and-dirty feel to the whole film despite
all the bright lights and artificial luxuries of the casino scenes.
Hodges and writer Paul Mayersberg must know a thing or two about the casino
business and the art of gambling because the screenplay is very smart and the
movie gives excellent insights into the world of addicted gamblers and the minds
of the croupiers who takes their money. After a while, the disease that both
factions suffer begans to get blurry, as they're both hopelessly addicted to
trying to beat the other. After a while, the money no longer matters -- it's all
about the idea of beating the house -- or the house beating you.
The life of a gambler is pathetic, and the movie shows no
mercy towards them. This isn't to say the movie is mean or crass, it's just true.
At one point Jack tests out a private theory by cheating the casino and paying
out to a hopelessly addicted gambler even though the man loses; Jack wants to
see if the man will learn his lesson and take the money and run, but as Jack
predicted, the man simply goes to another table and continues gambling. That, in
essence, is what happens to everyone in Croupier. They can't help
themselves. They must try to buck the system, always ignoring the
undeniable fact that the house always wins.
As Jack, Owen is very good. He's tall, dark, handsome, and
smooth as the croupier of the title. But Jack has a self-destructive streak. He
claims to never gamble, but when all is said and done, he realizes that he was
wrong, and that every time he says "I don't gamble" he was deluding
himself. Like the rest of the cast, he can't help himself. He commits the
ultimate gamble and loses -- big time. Gina McKee plays Marion, Jack's
hopelessly devoted girlfriend, who can't seem to make herself leave him. Even
when she does, she always comes back. Like the gamblers at the casino, she's
addicted to Jack, and no matter how much she loses, or how much the croupier
(Jack) takes and takes from her, she keeps coming back for more. It's no longer
about choice for her, it's all about instinct, the blind faith in believing that
"this time I'll win."
Various other characters show up in Jack's life. A cheat
who doesn't like being caught; a female card shark who is more than she seems;
Jack's father, who continues to lie and cheat his way through life and to his
son because he simply doesn't know how to act any other way. They're all
peripheral characters, but every single one of them belongs in Croupier
because, in one form or another, they're hopelessly addicted to gambling.
Money is one way to gamble, but as Croupier shows,
there's more than one way to gamble away your life.