Jack Manfred (Clive Owen) has ambitions as a writer, but can't think of a good idea to start with. His publisher, Giles (Nick Reding), suggests a trashy novel about football, but Jack is less than impressed, although he tells him that he'll see what he can do. So he begins the book, predictably getting nowhere with it, and when his father (Nicholas Ball) telephones him from South Africa telling him that he has recommended Jack for a position as a croupier at a London casino, he has mixed feelings. He could do with a steady job to support himself while he writes, but being a croupier - again - doesn't appeal. Nevertheless, he goes along to the job interview with the owner, Reynolds (Alexander Morton), and due to his skill with the cards and chips, he gets the job. However, he may be involved with something bigger than he realises...
Scripted by Paul Mayersberg, Croupier did almost nothing when it was first released in Britain, but when put out in America, it became a cult sleeper hit which earned it a re-release in the UK, where it again failed to make much impact. Although its US success was a pleasant surprise, you can see why many didn't take the film to their hearts, with its emotionally chilly protagonist and storyline at one remove from the action thanks to a somewhat disdainful voiceover provided by Owen. It is less attempting to do for Croupiers what Taxi Driver did for taxi drivers than make the profession as shady and movie glamorous as private detectives.
Jack has a girlfriend, Marion (Gina McKee), an ex-policewoman now working as a store detective, and she is none too happy at him now having a job in a casino, much preferring having a writer boyfriend. Yet you get the impression that Jack isn't too bothered what she thinks and secretly enjoys the position of power being a croupier puts him in over the "losers". In other hands, the film could have been a slick thriller in the mould of a lower budget Ocean's Eleven remake, but Mayersberg and director Mike Hodges prefer to stick to a low key character study, and despite its tip over into suspense territory in the latter stages it never feels tense.
Part of this - well, perhaps most of this - is down to the aloof, sullen performance of Owen, whose Jack holds back from any overwhelming relationships, not only in the gambling halls, which is understandable, but in his love life as well. Although he is attached to Marion, he's not so attached that he won't dally with fellow casino worker Bella (Kate Hardie) after he gets into a fight with a cheating customer who he had banned. His excuse for his behaviour is triggered by another croupier, Matt (Paul Reynolds), who has a more selfish attitude to life and inspires Jack to write about what he knows instead of the book he has been asked to do.
So everyone Jack meets becomes grist to his author's mill, including a South African lady who catches his eye at the gambling tables. She is Jani (Alex Kingston doing an accent) and she meets him outside the casino and invites him to have a drink with her. It turns out she has an ulterior motive for getting acquainted with him, and that she is part of a gang who are planning to rob the casino - will Jack join them? I should point out that this development occurs in practically the last half hour, and those hoping for a thriller may have given up by that point. On the other hand, those willing to go with Croupier's distant approach to its characters, which mimics the frame of mind of Jack the author, may find the film coolly stimulating as after all, nobody said main characters had to be likeable. Music by Simon Fisher-Turner.
British director, from television, with an interesting take on crime movies. His first film was the gritty, gangster cult Get Carter, but the offbeat follow-up Pulp was not as successful. The Terminal Man was a Hollywood science fiction thriller, and Flash Gordon a gloriously over-the-top comic book epic which showed Hodges' good humour to its best effect.