Mike Hodges, who caught the public attention with his fine 1971
gangster flick “Get Carter” but then stumbled with such big-
studio fare as “The Terminal Man” (1974), “Damien: Omen II”
(1978) and “Flash Gordon” (1980), here teams up with Paul
Mayersberg, the writer of Nicholas Roeg’s “The Man Who Fell
to Earth” (1976) and “Eureka” (1982), to fashion a stylish but
cold tale about a would-be writer who, at the suggestion of his
con-man father, takes a job as a dealer in a London casino and,
through a series of odd circumstances, gets involved in a
robbery attempt on the place.

“Croupier” might sound as though it might have a good deal in
common with an action piece like John Frankenheimer’s “Reindeer
Games,” but the comparison would be completely inapt. That
Hollywood product was a typically over-the-top, slam-bang heist
flick; this intimate British piece concentrates on mood and
ambiguity. Much of the enigmatic story is narrated by
protagonist Jack Manfred (Clive Owen) in the third person–as
if he were talking about somebody else; and indeed the
figure of Manfred is meant to be opaque and detached, an
emotionally drained observer of events rather than a real
participant in them. Hodges’ habit of shooting many scenes
with mirrors is obviously intended to lend a disembodied,
distorted feel to the character, and Owen contributes to the
sense of unease we have about Manfred by playing him in
so uncommunicative a fashion that he could give lessons in
dour inexpressivity to Fox Mulder. By the end, when the
robbery plot kicks in and we’re confronted with a sudden death
as well as an implausible twist to top things off, Manfred,
in a way of which Joe Klein might approve, has become a
virtual nonentity, literally clothed in anonymity.

“Croupier” is thus less a heist drama than a character study
which wants to raise existential issues about human life. It
doesn’t entirely succeed, getting too involved in plot
complications while failing sufficiently to clarify it’s hero’s
inner life or motivations, or, in the final analysis, what it
wants to say about man’s nature. But it does exert a powerful
stylistic pull, and its cool, crisp surface compensates to a
large degree for its more pretentious and obscure elements.