Croupier marked a sadly short-lived comeback for perhaps Britain’s greatest director of neo-noir, Mike Hodges, who can claim that title simply for Get Carter if for nothing else. Croupier was his first feature in nine years after his most underrated and probably second-best film, Black Rainbow, just came and went. Film4 commissioned Hodges to make the film, and it’s completely in his ballpark with its noir atmosphere.
Clive Owen, who was primarily known for TV work like Chancer and Class of ’61 at the time, is the lead. He would also have the lead role in Hodges’ most likely last narrative film, I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead. Of course, Owen has gone on to be one of the most esteemed actors of his generation, although in my opinion his work started to suffer after Children of Men and The International. He seemed to have had a comeback with the Steven Soderbergh series The Knick, but Owen doesn’t seem to have capitalised on that performance. I always thought he would’ve probably been a better Bond than Daniel Craig. It’s never been clear exactly why that never happened, even though pretty much everybody agreed he would’ve been perfect (Owen claims they never approached him). Did he ask for a percentage of the gross (something even Craig doesn’t get now) or did he just say he wasn’t interested? The reason why Bond is relevant with Croupier is that even as far back as 1999, Owen was being tipped as Pierce Brosnan’s replacement when he would eventually step down. This happened soon after Croupier‘s release, which was where most audiences noticed Owen for the first time, especially in America.
The film itself is a perfectly decent little neo-noir that would end up being a regular on Film4. Owen plays Jack Manfred, a writer who ends up becoming a croupier at a local casino. His dad, who was a small-time hustler in South Africa, gets him the interview and pretty much the job. The plot is fairly standard stuff—failed relationship, he breaks casino protocol, gets involved with a shady lady, there’s a possible heist—and of course he thinks his life as a croupier might be perfect for the novel he wants to write. Paul Mayersberg, who was one of Nicolas Roeg’s go-to screenwriters and also penned the script for Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence, does a perfectly decent job, although it’s all a little too on the nose. The narration done by Owen’s Jack chops and changes between decent hard-boiled narration and self-parody that could be out of Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid.
Hodges definitely wanted to prove himself again as a director, but while it’s very competently made, Croupier doesn’t have enough stylistic flourishes to really make it sparkle. Owen is incredibly good in the role but did the hard-boiled thing better in Sin City and even, in a way, Children of Men—I always said he was the new Humphrey Bogart around that time, and there was some truth to that. That was probably why Owen would’ve been so good as Bond: he would’ve been a meaner version of the Timothy Dalton take on the character. In the end, Craig acheived a great balance of all of the Bonds before, but updated it to a 21st sensibility, whereas Owen’s would’ve been nastier, that’s for sure. Croupier is a worth checking out. It’s an artful rejection of the Guy Ritchie style of British crime films that are sadly still in vogue, and that’s not even a bash on Ritchie, he is generally fine for what he does.
Croupier lands on 4K, and it’s an odd choice for the format. It’s not a hugely flashy film visually when compared to Hodges’ Flash Gordon or even the grittiness of Get Carter, which benefits from the format. Arrow did Black Rainbow, and that probably could use a 4K disc more than Croupier, to be honest. Still, it looks as good as a 3 million dollar commission from Film4 from the late ’90s could possibly look. The big extra is a two-hour documentary about Hodges made by David Cairns, which takes up the bonus Blu-Ray disc. The film contains an archival commentary from Hodges and a new one from critic Josh Nelson, plus new interviews from Mayersberg and actress Kate Hardie. There is also a BFI talk with Hodges from around the time of the release (the film bombed in the UK, but did well in the US) and the trailer and an image gallery round off the on-disc extras. The booklet features new writing on the film by film critics Barry Forshaw and Philip Kemp, select archival material, and you also get a poster.