I went into Mike Hodges’ Croupier knowing more or less nothing about what to expect. And despite Clive Owen‘s killer turns in the likes of Closer, Sin City and the inimitable Children of Men, I often wonder how many people think of him in some of the actors of a certain era. He’s has put together a fine body of work and kind of simmers underneath the surface, like a fine wine you only need to open at its peak. In truth, I don’t know whether he’s out of fashion or chose to step away, but remains one of the good ones, within a certain spectrum of intensity and before I completely digress, let’s head back to 1998 and this unique UK drama.
In Croupier, Clive Owen plays Jack Manfred, a man trying to be a full-time writer but is being given terrible pitches for small, empty magazine pieces but needs the cash, so accepts whatever he’s given. He’s on the lookout for inspiration and a desire to step outside of the bullshit he envisions around him with yuppies and lad culture leading the way. Although, it’s not to say he doesn’t prosper from the environment but he’s looking for bigger ideas and an opportunity for something ‘else’ in his life.
His Dad, who does seem shifty the first time we meet him, gets Jack a job in a casino as a croupier, but he’s already skilled in the work – and so we’re made aware that there’s more to learn here than we’re initially shown. He also appears to know the industry better than the man running the joint, and while it is an opportunity, it seems that the world of gambling appears to be an addiction for Jack from the past, and it’s not too long before he’s dragged back into the betting game.
Early on in Croupier, we discover that we’re going to be with Jack through the story and he’s narrating with voice-overs that introduce us to his real thoughts, over the action on screen. He’s somewhat of a voyeur really, and we’ll learn of his actual feelings towards everything in this method. The only thing that stands out, because it’s set in London, is the acute Americanisms that are present – making this done purposefully for an audience both sides of the pond.
In era vibe, it holds a sense of Christopher Nolan’s Following or Memento, things appear matter of fact but fiction, as if we’re just slipping inside the life of someone we’d see every day. Owen’s Jack is also somewhat distant from those around him, and as the new job begins to take over his life, and his relationship with Gina McKee’s Marion starts to falter, things at work become a bigger distraction including his interest in other women and, particularly, Kate Hardie’s Bella and Alex Kingston’s Jani, with the latter eventually wanting to recruit him as an inside man for a heist she knows about.
Croupier is very much of the late 90s, make that known, so Jack is trying to be a man’s man and while the female roles aren’t as decent as they might be now, Bella, Marion and Jani all have their strengths and individuality; they’re not standard stock characters even if they effectively differentials of a ‘male gaze’ centric focus when you break it down honestly, and obviously play off whatever Clive Owen’s Jack is up to – although Bella is more independent. Overall, the story that develops from all their relationships holds an unusual fascination that pulls you into the grime, which in turn captures a late 90s London that doesn’t really exist in the same way now, it feels edgy, dirty, suspicious grey and concrete – led by rain, criminals and a distant hope to escape, but no means to get there.
There’s not a lot of winners here, and maybe that’s the point, but it lingered in my mind for a long time afterwards and you can see why Clive Owen developed a career with those uneasy characters that we don’t know if we should trust or not. It’s a unique experience and there’s something about the atmosphere, unlike others then or now, which makes it worth checking out.
Now, as with any Arrow Video release, you get a load of top extras and there’s some really unique insights here, especially in the development of Croupier and also on Disc 1 is an archival BFI audio interview, from 1999, with director Mike Hodges, who talks through the process, his influences and his career and worth listening to.
But the interview I particularly loved, which is packed with perception regarding filmmaking, and the male-dominated world we’ve been in for such a long time now, is with Kate Hardie. Open, honest and insightful. A very honest interview on female actors during the 80s and 90s, and beyond – if only ‘til lately really. It’s worth listening and learning, and you get to fully appreciate her views, in her roles and her openness of her career.
And then, on Disc 2, we’re treated to a rare and unique experience as we spend the day with the director recently, and delve into Mike Hodges: A Filmmakers Life with David Cairns, who spends a day with the filmmaker.
A man with many stories, smart and beautifully reflective thoughts. His ponderings over death are enlightening, as he talks about people who have intense awareness of it, and how they can be more kind and – being completely transparently – that’s something that affects me, so I get why kindness is a much better thing. And this is something he came to understand and try to live/put into his own life. [Maybe I should own the death I’m so scared of]
His discussed his time in the Navy, growing up to ‘those’ private catholic schools – and he gets very honest there – and all the things he learned from it. His life experience. And a reminder that to really understand people. You have you go out and see it for yourself. You must live it.
Hodges tell us of his experience of the industry, and how he’s liked to put this in work, but also if he liked a person, that’s why he’s like to work with them. We delve into his time with commercial TV, because the BBC was about going to university, and even less accessible, then through the industry and changing times. And Mike dives into political elements, his first-hand experience of Vietnam, his work in the States and then onto the ground-breaking World in Action.
As he moves back to discuss all his films, and particularly Croupier, he reveals it was designed in an era where banks were making too much money, and he wanted to rip it apart somewhat, and the film then echoes the world around it, amplifying the chaos and making it a socio-political film with the casino being a metaphor for everything – which in turn made it hard to turn commercial back then.
He does add that Clive was a delight, but the producers feared it because it’s quite a slow-paced bleak film. If you think about it, it’s perfect for now but in the late 90s Channel 4 wouldn’t release it though. However, by sheer luck, the BFI were redistributing Get Carter and it got a release with them, gradually picked up positive reviews, and then friends of friends and got it out to screens in the States, and through word of mouth – and slightly more careful marketing, more and more audiences saw it – which is the best way for an Indie to be successful, and here we are this many years later…
It’s so honest and kind of wonderful to get this look inside all the process, go delve in!