If you grew up in the ’90s, movies were probably a big part of your childhood and upbringing. Those were the first glimpses into that unknown and mysterious world of adults that were forbidden or hidden from you. That generation remembers their old VCRs that had to be cleaned once in a while so that the VHS cassette would run smoothly without ruining your movie experience. All those Millenials reading this probably think these are some age-old inventions from the early 20th century, but this was that golden age for cinema which had a special flavour while leaving an everlasting mark on generations to come. It is still a source of inspiration for up-and-coming movie makers worldwide.

The most significant reason why so many ’90s movies became cult classics is that this was a unique period of creativity combined with experimental movie making in our history. Independent movies with low budgets became instant hits because art was often infused in their core, with attention being focused on creating immersive atmospheres and interesting characters. Today’s blockbusters with their huge budgets totalling tens or even hundreds of millions of dollars can often leave some people wondering where all that money went? A good story stays in your mind like that song that one can’t forget, while an interesting character that one can relate to transforms into your imaginary friend or a role-model. This bond grows deeper for those who consider classic movies as a part of their youth, while associating their favourite movies with their earliest and fondest memories.

Anyone who watched Croupier in 1998 knows what we are talking about, as this movie embodies the neo-noir peak of the decade with its sinister and gritty frame that grabs your attention and doesn’t let go until the end. This is the first croupier movie that actually inspired a whole generation of young men to try gambling as a job while testing their luck. Director Mike Hodges does a splendid job in depicting the anti-hero’s internal struggle with his feelings while he is just trying to get by, one day at a time, while trapped in his routine just like the rest of us. Clive Owen plays Jack, a wannabe writer with a talent for numbers and reading people. He uses his skills to excel in his job as a croupier, where he can control the game and everybody on the table, which gives him some sense of power and control.

He uses all the benefits of working in a casino so he can get enough inspiration and material for his writing, so he is an artist in disguise who studies human behavior and interaction. He does this like a professional by distancing himself emotionally so he can soak up every detail that reveals his customers’ hidden thoughts and feelings. He creates a new meaning of a croupier as a student of human behaviour who explores human nature, while in return getting to know himself by confirming his doubts about his moral ambiguity. Jack is an embodiment of lost souls who tried their luck working in live dealer casinos but got chewed up in the process. The movie contains an unexpected twist toward the end, which we will not make into a spoiler, but it is important because it reveals to Jack that he who thought was the ultimate manipulator was manipulated the whole time. He takes this with a smile plus some dose of indifference as someone who finds more pleasure in observing his destiny than trying to control it.

The movie does a fair job of providing a realistic depiction of a smoky, overcrowded world of small-time casinos, which becomes one microcosm in its own right. Those who don’t know how is it working at a casino, but have inclinations toward a career in the gaming industry, should take some notes from this cult classic. It gives us glimpses into those small details of croupier training to establish a clear understanding of the skill level needed to be a successful poker croupier or any other casino job. This evokes our respect for a protagonist with an interesting skill set which we would like to possess ourselves. Clive Owen actually spent a lot of time training with real-life high-level croupiers who taught him a few tricks. 

Who would think that a casino job movie can have so many layers in depicting life as a game of chance with people in it just rolling dices while pondering if their free will is just an illusion? Smart use of camera angles, smooth transitions, and Jack’s internal monologues makes us feel like we are living inside his head where it feels comfortable despite ominous signs of incoming danger. He is living in his small basement apartment and he doesn’t seem to care about material things as he is disgusted by rich snobs that he sees every day at his job. He relishes in his art where he falls into some meditative state of pure observation, which makes him appreciate the beauty only he can see but which stays out of reach for everyone else. 

His relationship with women in his life is superficial as he applies emotional distance from them as well, just accepting all ups and downs of a relationship as some great source of inspiration for his writing. He is a true artist who knows that he needs to observe and embrace life with bitter and sweet elements so he can evolve and be able to express himself. The women are suffering considerably as a result of his artistic impulses but he remains indifferent. 

Be sure to watch this little gem if you haven’t already as it will teleport you into another era when cinema was used for exploring human nature and as such a fluid tool of expression. The ’90s vibe brings some nostalgia for an era where time appeared to run slower to the point where it seems weird for Millennials to watch any movie with no reference to Facebook or even smartphones. And after watching this movie it will certainly make you look at casino croupiers slightly differently.