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August 29, 2008 |

By Ted Boynton | Boozehound Cinephile | August 29, 2008 |

Off-topic aside: When I was a young man, I did not believe that in my lifetime I would see the major-party nomination of an African-American for the presidency of the United States. Having observed the catastrophic gimmick nomination of Geraldine Ferraro for Vice President in 1984, and having squirmed through the 1996 minstrel show of Alan “Bojangles” Keyes being offered up as a Republican primary candidate, I couldn’t envision the circumstances that would lead to a legitimate contender from an ethnic minority taking the stage and not only preparing for a real fight, but expecting to win. Political beliefs and ideology aside, my heart swelled last night as I witnessed that very event.

On a related note, by my tally, here was the final score on something else I wanted to see:

Deep, hot tongue kisses between Michelle Obama and Jill Biden: 0
Dashed and disappointed Boozehound dreams: 1

Pop Culture Item Consumed: Croupier, Clive Owen’s first crossover picture after a successful television career in England. (We’ll kindly ignore The Rich Man’s Wife with Halle Berry.)

Beverage Consumed: The can-can, a variation on the martini combining St. Germain liqueur with gin and dry vermouth. St. Germain is a sweet but powerful liqueur made from the elderflower of the Alps, and the can-can offers a refreshing turn on the traditional martini with two shots of good gin, a brimming shot of St. Germain, and a splash of dry vermouth, with a twist. The St. Germain adds an elegant, golden taste of floral essence to the punch-in-the-nose dryness of the martini. The can-can isn’t for every evening, but when you’re looking for something a little different, the can-can offers a velvety tongue across the nipples of your palate.

Shake with ice, strain into a large martini glass, and lord it over the neighbors like the demi-god that you are.

Summary of Action: Croupier, the tale of a disaffected casino dealer’s cynical interactions with the world around him, is a stylish pickpocket of a film. Elegantly hailing from the wrong side of the tracks, it works its grubby East End charms to distract you with the main storyline of a frustrated young writer who works at a casino to pay the bills while trying to finish his novel. Meanwhile, Croupier’s other roaming hand is in your back pocket twiddling around a twisted subtext that curls into the main narrative in the last act and delivers a rope-a-dope series of jabs to your expectations in the denouement. Imagine a dark-haired, good-looking Cockney gangster greeting you with a warm embrace while rummaging in your coat pockets for the loose cash you’d gladly trade for getting felt up in the first place. This image is particularly apt considering that Croupier director Mike Hodges helped invent the mod British gangster film with 1971’s Get Carter. The look and feel of that film, along with Michael Caine’s unique presence in it, find a bookend in Croupier, with Clive Owen ably assuming the role of the detached anti-hero.

I was lucky enough that Croupier was my introduction to Clive Owen eight years ago, the first time I had laid eyes on him. Like Owen himself, Croupier is the shiny-underneath-the-grime doubloon that sticks to your shoe in the subway and makes its way home with you, and in watching it for the second time I was struck by how obvious it is in retrospect that the brooding, unconventionally handsome Owen would become not something so boring as just a star, but the epitome of the metaphorical rough sex of films like Sin City and Inside Man.

In Croupier, Owen plays titular casino dealer and frustrated writer Jack Manfred, a Londoner with a murky past whose father arranges for him to return to his career as a croupier with a job at a London card club. While Jack has no interest in gambling his own money, he has a strong compulsion to serve as the instrument of defeat for others, for the gamblers with the misfortune to end up at his table - he craves the specter of their failure as much as he desires success in his literary career. As Jack sinks back into his addiction, he begins to neglect his complacent girlfriend, Marion (Gina McKee), while falling into the company of both an attractive but mercurial co-worker (Kate Hardie) and a mysterious professional gambler, Jani (Alex Kingston, who played curvy, curly redhead Dr. Elizabeth Corday on “ER”). This last bit of business threatens to be his undoing, as Jani drags Jack into a plot to rob the casino where he works.

Croupier is an accomplished picture on a number of fronts. After years of head-scratchingly misguided projects like Flash Gordon and Black Rainbow, Hodges once again captured the distinctive, detached menace of Get Carter. This tone complements a cleverly scripted plot that relies heavily on Clive Owen’s one-man wrecking crew of understated presence to avoid falling into the rutted clich├ęs of films about petty English criminals. Perhaps most impressive, Hodges achieves all of this in a story frequently driven by voiceover narration, typically the device of a lazy hack. Croupier proves a relatively rare instance in which this device works, primarily because the narration occurs through the musings of a writer reflecting on the subject matter of the story - a bit of reflection that becomes crucial to the resolution of that story.

Another great thing about Croupier: It’s perfect for watching on DVD from the comfort of your sofa while knocking down a few helpings of your favorite cocktail. Croupier frequently presents a claustrophobic atmosphere, with lots of close-in dialogue shots and numerous scenes in the card club where Jack works, an ambitious but somewhat pathetic casino wannabe. As a result, the film is suited to small-screen viewing, and with its dankly grimy subject matter and rogues’ gallery of characters, it’s a great drinking movie. This collection of lowlifes drinks frequently and realistically, and it’s a tribute to Hodges that I find myself wishing I were sitting in some dingy London bar knocking back warm gin with them.

Also, if you want to see a buck-ass naked Alex Kingston, this is your picture. I was always partial to Dr. Corday.

How the Pairing Held Up: While neither is something I’d want to experience every day, kicking back with a shaker of can-cans and having Clive Owen wash over my eyes and ears made for quite the pleasant evening.

Tastes Like: Lilacs. And Alex Kingston’s creamy white thigh. Mmmm, paging Dr. Corday - I have a penile emergency requiring close, personal treatment.

Overall Rating: Blackjack, baby. Aces and faces.

Ted Boynton is a dedicated sot who plans to leave his barstool to stalk Whit Stillman, now that someone has found Whit Stillman. Ted also manages to hold down a job and a wife, three hours each per day, whether they need it or not. Readers may scold, hector, admonish or taunt Ted by e-mailing him at [email protected]

Hold on Tightly, Let Go Lightly

Croupier: The Boozehound Cinephile / Ted Boynton

Boozehound Cinephile | August 29, 2008 |


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