[jeez, I can’t even manage to keep to my own catch-up schedule. Will try and get to where I need to be today, and then do May’s capsules tomorrow. Sorry about the flood.]
Croupier (Mike Hodges, 1998)
[originally posted 5Dec2001]
It’s hard to watch a Mike Hodges film and not expect Timothy Dalton to pop up somewhere and snarl “lying BITCH!” Yes, the man who gave us Flash Gordon is back. Not that he went anywhere; Hodges disappeared from Hollywood after Flash Gordon, but has kept playing around the edges, directing episodes of HBO’s excellent anthology series The Hitchhiker, a few other made-for-TV flicks, and the odd big-screen indie offering (Black Rainbow, A Prayer for the Dying, et al). Hard to tell whether Croupier was meant as his way back into Hollywood or just another Black Rainbow. It ended up being neither, somehow, despite reams of praise from just about every major-league critic in the book.
The story centers around Jack (Clive Owen, the driver in those BMW short films directed by big names), a writer struggling with his book and rapidly spending his advance. His father, a well-known gambler pulls a few strings and gets Jack a job as a croupier in a local casino. The job breaks Jack’s writers’ block, and he writes about (of course) his job and the odd characters he meets there, on both sides of the table. There’s a bit more to the story than that, but given the film’s pace and development, it’s hard to say what without spoilers other than to say there’s a thriller-type element to the film.
I spent much of my time watching it wondering what about it, exactly, caused Roger Ebert to call it a godsend. Make no mistake, it’s a quite good little film, does what it sets out to do with very little fuss, and gives American viewers ample opportunity to see more of Alex Kingston (Dr. Corday on ER) and Kate Hardie (Safe, The Krays), both of whom are so easy on the eyes it’s almost criminal. Owen gives a
smashing performance given that his role throughout most of the film is simply to react to what goes on around him; he never makes it boring, though, as a lesser actor might well have done. But it really is a minor film, one which in a year where more releases drew as much attention as the year’s finest (Before Night Falls, Requiem for a Dream, et al.) would probably have been written off as an easy way to kill ninety minutes. And that’s pretty much it; you can spend ninety minutes in many worse ways (e.g., Planet of the Apes, Scary Movie 2, Dude Where’s My Car?…), but ultimately there’s nothing here to have drawn the rain of praise this film received with its American release. ***