Croupier
1998

Without doubt, one of the best casino themed movies to make it to the big screen, it was highly applauded in the States when it was released despite not starring a single Amercian lead or having any American ties whatsoever. Well cast (Clive Owen, Alex Kingston and Gina McKee, in the lead roles, with Nick Ball, Alexander Morton and Kate Hardie supporting), containing a few great one-liners and with a backdrop centred in London, I'm told it's a very realistc snapshot of what life was like working on the dealers' side of the tables in one of the Capital's more up-market houses of chance in the nineties.

The story? Jack is an aspiring writer, a South African, who is now living in a basement flat in London with his ex-copper girlfriend, Marion. He has a pressing problem in that he's broke, and needs to bring in something to at least cover the rent. He asks a publisher he knows for a job, but this is casually dismissed and what he leaves with is a suggestion to submit something they might be able to use on a new title they're working up - an invitation to punt for an assignment as a freelance ghost writer. He sells his car. Around the same time, he gets a call from his father (still in South Africa) prodding him to arrange to meet the General Manager of a London casino, who's expecting his call as a result of a string being pulled - there's a job as a croupier in the offing if it all goes well. This is something Jack's done before, having worked in Sun City before he left South Africa, but would rather not. However, to placate his old man he arranges the meeting, passes an audition at the tables and, as needs must, starts working there on a generous rate of pay. Money problems solved.

After he starts his new job, the storyline develops; his relationship with his girlfriend goes South, in part due to a change in his demeanour and their disjointed working hours (she comes home just as he's going out, and vice versa). They finally part after he shags one of the female dealers he works with, Bella, and she turns up on their doorstep one night after getting the sack from work for failing a drugs test, telling Marion ". . . your boyfriend smoked my dope, fucked me and then grassed me up - and now I can't get a job". He also spots one of his colleagues on the gaming floor colluding in cheating and meets up with Jani, a fellow South African and one of the casino's patrons (strictly against the rules) and talks her into joining him for a weekend away at his publisher's place in the country - during which she asks him to be the man inside as part of a plan to rob the casino one night. Later on he gets back with his ex although the relationship doesn't go much further - she's killed in a hit-and-run incident, but not before she finds out about the casino job and tips off her former colleagues in the Met before Jack gets in any deeper.

Throughout this time, and after abandoning his previous writing efforts, he works on a new title writing about a casino croupier, "Jake", a self-interested pariah who despises the punters he meets on a daily basis and takes great joy in seeing them fritter away their money - his alto ego in fact. Despite eventually completing this and seeing it published anonymously, he doesn't throw in his job at the casino but carries on dealing the tables, having reached a point of complete indifference to it all - he reflects "Now he had become the still centre of that spinning wheel of misfortune. The world turned 'round him leaving him miraculously untouched. The croupier had reached his goal - he no longer heard the sound of the ball . . . ". Jani calls him from South Africa and puts his father on the 'phone; his job offer and the failed robbery attempt, which left Jack holding on to an unclaimed "half-up front" bung of £10K, was all instigated by his old man all along. The film ends with Jack and Bella getting back together.

Overall an engaging and well acted storyline that keeps you interested to the end. I have read some reviews where the authors clearly didn't rate the way that the lead presented his thoughts as a voiceover, but it worked for me. The highpoint? Definitely the scene from the weekend away where Alex Kingston sports all to the camera. If you're an admirer of Ms Kingston, it certainly doesn't get any better than that. Lucky Clive Owen.

June 2015.


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