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Image Entertainment presents
Croupier (1998)

"Hang on tightly, let go lightly."
- Jack Manfred (Clive Owen)

Review By: Matt Peterson  
Published: March 08, 2004

Stars: Clive Owen, Kate Hardie, Alex Kingston, Gina McKee, Nicholas Ball
Director: Mike Hodges

MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (language, violence, sexuality, nudity)
Run Time: 01h:31m:11s
Release Date: March 09, 2004
UPC: 014381059625
Genre: suspense thriller

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer

DVD Review

The world of gambling is one of those gray areas. Called the "house of addiction" by the film's main character, it is a temptation not unlike drugs, alcohol, sex, or any other possibly destructive force. It can be considered legalized theft—in the end, the house always wins, and the casino is set up in a complex and systematic way in order to ensure this is a reality. Others use the con man's justification, stating it's not theft if people are willingly giving their money. Still others see it as a harmless toss to Lady Luck, and are willing to help casinos and gambling establishments make money, as long as they get that chance to strike it big.

Jack Manfred (Clive Owen) can see all sides of the equation. He realizes the danger, yet he reluctantly decides to play with fire once again. A struggling writer, Jack resurrects his old job he once had in South Africa, at the advice of his father. He becomes a croupier (or dealer) at the Golden Lion, a local casino. He realizes he is playing with fire, enjoying his job for the wrong reasons and hating himself for it. To put it simply, he loves watching people lose. He can read a "punter" in a few seconds, knowing what they will bet and how they will play. His skill is attuned and undeniable. He handles cards and chips as though they were parts of his own body. This is just a means to an end; he hopes to use the money he earns to sustain his writing pursuits, but as always, things grow complicated.

Jack's girlfriend Marion (Gina McKee) is wary of his new job, which comes with late hours and strictly enforced restrictions. Jack is expected to report any level of cheating, even from fellow employees. He is not allowed to have relationships with anyone in the casino, either client or employee. This is fine for Marion, but when Jack begins to bend the rules, her idea of marrying a romantic writer begins to go out the window. After Jack meets Jani (Alex Kingston), a skilled South African gambler, he is intoxicated, but maintains his level-headed demeanor. He becomes involved in a scheme to commit a serious crime, justifying it with the promise of a reward that will allow him to leave his destructive job forever. Being a croupier is slowly decaying Jack, but ends up giving him inspiration for what becomes his greatest writing success. Before the tale ends, twists and turns give Jack a run for his money.

Too methodically paced to be considered a full-blown thriller, Croupier is a decent, entertaining independent sleeper from the UK. Director Mike Hodges brings a controlled, skilled approach to the material. Visuals are glossy and glamorous— an appropriate choice for depicting the posh, up scale casino and its patrons. When Jack is prowling the streets of Britain, the cinematography takes a more gritty patina. Editing is smart and well executed. Part character drama, the film also takes time to delve into the inner workings of a casino and its management. This is interesting material, but the film's heart lies in its main character.

There is no denying Clive Owen is going to be a big star in the years to come. I first saw him in The Hire, a series of great short films from BMW. Owen can also be seen in the recent Beyond Borders opposite Angelina Jolie and in a small role in The Bourne Identity. He has a powerfully debonair yet intelligent screen presence, and his acting skill is apparent. I wouldn't be surprised if he is cast as the next James Bond. Other performances, most notably from ER's Alex Kingston, are well done and aid the story well.

Despite these positive attributes, there are some problems. First off, the plot is filled with unnecessary twists that feel forced and unnatural. They seem to be twists for the sake of having twists, as though the writer felt the audience would not be interested without them. Because of these extraneous elements, the real heart of the film gets somewhat buried. The focus should have been on Jack's croupier skills and his eventual decay—the plot points that are forced upon only serve to distract from this powerful concept. Also, the film is structured around a voice over by Jack speaking in the third person. Granted, voice over is necessary at times, especially when we need to be informed about casino operations. If the filmmakers had chosen to place us more in the role of Jack instead of having Jack narrating about Jack, we would have felt more involved, creating a more engaging film. Instead of watching Jack watch, we should have been watching purely through his eyes. The distance dulls the effects. Regardless, this is still a good film that, with some work, could have been great.

Rating for Style: B+
Rating for Substance: B


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.85:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: The 1.85:1 nonanamorphic transfer is very clean and pleasant to watch. Grain is minimal, as is any flaws from digital overenhancement. Expectedly, there is some motion blurring characteristic of a PAL to NTSC transfer, but it is minimal. The colors appear to be a bit washed out, dulling some of the glamorous sheen so evident in the casino sequences. A native anamorphic transfer would have done wonders for this film.

Image Transfer Grade: B


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Englishno

Audio Transfer Review: The audio needs some work. Presented in 2.0 stereo, the track does not default to ProLogic, but upon engaging it, I did hear some decent surround fill. Some of the recording sounds cheap and unmastered. This is possibly because of the film's small budget. Dynamic range is minimal, but dialogue is clean. For a film this recent, a decent surround mix should have been a given.

Audio Transfer Grade: C+


Disc Extras

Static menu
Scene Access with 12 cues and remote access
Packaging: unmarked keepcase
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: single

Extras Review: Croupier was originally released on DVD some time ago as a rental-only disc through the online rental service Netflix. Image has released this exact same disc commerically, which features no extras whatsoever. The menu is simply a list of chapter stops, nothing more. I can see this as a rental disc, but some more care should have been put into its retail release.

Extras Grade: F


Final Comments

Mike Hodges' film is somewhat of a missed opportunity. It takes the idea of voyeurism to a new level, showcasing such activities in the plain sight of their targets. Aside from the aforementioned flaws, it is worthwhile, especially if you are interested in the inner dynamics of a casino. Recommended.


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