Thursday, January 28, 2010

"The Spanish Prisoner" (1997) - Movie Review

David Mamet’s “The Spanish Prisoner” leaves its audience with trust issues. The film in its entirety is a demonstration of a con game. The screen is filled with details and the simplistic action, response and eye slides has a reason to be there. Everything is out there yet nothing is revealed. Something is fishy but its main character Joe Ross (Campbell Scott) cannot put a finger on it. This is Mamet writing a play to prove the gullible nature of people in this paranoid city.

Joe and his co-developer George Lang (Ricky Jay) are featuring their invention called “The Process” which might benefit his company a great deal of fortune. This they do it in an island resort. Joe comes across a rich man Jimmy Dell (Steve Martin). Jimmy Dell is the rich man for which he is proud of and gentleman like Joe are always a great friend to have by. There are bread crumbs all over the place from the beginning of the story. Sudden attention seekers of a plane landing and video surveillance becomes suspicion machine for the viewers. The Process is the key and the company needs it and Joe has it. Thus begins the mind game.

This is purely a play which does not even have the slightest sense of being a film. Some times it hinders the pleasure of watching a film but some times the dialogue exchange as that of the play is right way to shoot it. The characters are always on the look out for information. Genuine emotions are hard to come by and sympathy can be a dangerous thing. Joe from being the prospective wealthy man for his work is suddenly in the mix of a setup. What and how that set up works is to view it.

Even in the trend of trust no one, there are simple exchanges of confidence while traveling and waiting in a public environment. Most of it are harmless conversation leading thankfully to nothing. But as a character says in the film “There are good people and bad people. We just ran into few”, we do not most of the time run into them. Yet they are the ones who runs into our lives. A con victim’s real loss is the ability to trust anyone after it. Made to look like a fool and been humiliated and stripped of the self esteem is the biggest cruelty in this ordeal. Mamet does not make it a big deal though.

In this con game, Joe as his name is an average Joe with a big fortune in his hand. He gets deceived and rapidly moves on to the descent he did not imagine. In the end he does not solve the riddle nor becomes the hero. He still remains as the gentleman with less trust on strangers. The culprits are in all shapes and forms. This is the victim’s view of an enjoyable Ocean’s Eleven con game.

As always the wordplay is the key in Mamet’s writing. Every one interrupts other’s sentences and string their view along those. They listen and cut faster in a conversation. It is almost a multiple personality disorder of one character. Of course in a screenplay, it is the writer’s interior personalities taking their form but in Mamet’s writings, it is obvious. They are different but when they speak, they have Mamet’s soul.

“The Spanish Prisoner” is an intelligent film and as much as anyone can guess the outcome, it pushes the doubts whenever it is possible. We are in the lookout for the next best detail to second guess the trajectory of the story, but the film plays the cards close its chest. It is not the greatest of Mamet’s presentation but it is surely an entertaining production.

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