Sunday, July 05, 2009

"House of Games" (1987) - Movie Review

The 1987 “House of Games” winged in is a directorial debut by the twisty sharp writer David Mamet. It has the deception and betrayal smeared in its people and rather the con I unravelled well ahead does not dim the fact that it is more than a show piece for a con film. It is a study of the shadowed characters and the resident of immeasurable caliber act in the people we meet waiting for the spark to kick in. That is the film of Mamet’s skill and it succeeds along with Joe Mantegna as Mike.

Wiki in its description says repetitively that the viewer should watch the film with next to nothing idea about it. I watched it with nothing but the personal awareness that Mamet’s films are twists and deception. That did not help me in identifying the ongoing but kept me alert. Whether it is essentially true? Whether I am complacent in discovering this plot? Does this make me better over the writer? The above are the things the film wants to get its viewers think. But I wanted more challenge as I began to be a little arrogant of the discovery I found in the film, which is not the way to be watched and Mamet does not beckon that from his audience either. Finding it might be the idea but not challenging it to prove something to themselves.

Regardless of Mamet’s film has its materials based on cons, it does not gets boring because he finds the platform to present it in forms we often practiced to see as action, thriller or drama. Look at “Glengary Glenn Ross” wherein he puts these salespersons into the cage to bribe, beg and steal for another day of living. His characters carry a charm, cowardice, courage and comedy. But beyond that there is the unexpectedness in them. In Mamet’s film everybody is capable of everything or at least he would make his audience think so. Then how he handles “Spartan”, a CIA operative tracking down the one of the country’s important person. Nothing we know about Val Kilmer’s character but he can be violent, fast and reasonable.

In “House of Games”, Lindsay Crouse plays a psychiatrist Margaret Ford is a representation of general audience. Her life has been financially sumptuous with a work of hearing people retch out their dreams of misery and despair. She is getting consumed by this process and has a mentor and friend Dr. Maria (Lilia Skala) to provide her wisdom of dealing with it. She does not suffice the emotional completion Margaret wants. A compulsive gambler (Steven Goldstein) tells her that he owes twenty five grand to a man and he will be killed for not returning the money he never had. She offers to help him being put in a spot and makes her visit to the pub he said, House of Games. She goes inside and calls for Mike the man who can forget the debt. She demands a deal to forget the money and Mike shows that her patient only owes 800$ and then he counter offers something. She sees a room from where he came out which is a gambling table. He asks to watch out for a man’s particular mannerism which would help him win the bet when he goes to use the rest room. Now 800$ is nothing for her and she could have instantly paid it back, but she does not. She takes up the offer. We know why she does that and Mike knows it a lot well. Beyond this there is no need for summary. May be the remaining film would unfurl easily, may be not but watch Montegna in his deliveries of lines, mannerisms and telling the truth while concealing the best. He explains the idea of con to her in a scene, “It’s called confidence game. Why? Because you give me your confidence? No. Because I give you mine” We would do that to Mamet but we do that for not being conned rather want to be conned.

The doubt of this game goes on and we do not see the end of it. This might not be the great film as I expected it to be but it is always a fun for me to watch any film of Mamet. He recites Zen like philosophies in betrayal and trust. There is no effort in the screenplay to fool his audience. He sees it as a character study and an exploration of ourselves in the nature of the emotional calamities we are ready to perform. In that, it is more than a con film. We want to be smart and so does his characters. The films of his rarely has any character who is cinematically dumb. His characters are either practiced their skills to perfection or the personality we would associate with rather making it a generic representation of the people. Not stereotypic but smartly common sensed.

“House of Games” happens continuously without a break. Not fast and hurried but dropping cues for its audience to follow. We learn a lot more on this psychiatrist at the end of the film while Mike knowing that still cannot avoid it. While the film is about Mike’s marksmanship, it is more about the unforgiving vulnerability and capacity a being like Margaret cannot withstand. We can be a victim of anything but not a con game. No one will be happy about being had and “House of Games” tells that the extremity of that reaction as it closes. Not an end I liked but it gave Margaret a crooked completeness as character and film.

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