The Spanish Prisoner (15)

Directed by David Mamet
Starring Campbell Scott, Steve Martin, Rebecca Pidgeon

Some consider Mamet to be one of America's greates living playwrights, with such works as Glengarry Glen Ross and Oleanna. He has also showed a fondness for film and once again returns to the theme of his first film House of Games with this look at con men and the con game.
Scott plays Joe Ross, a scientist who has invented a revoutionary "process" that could make a lot of money for him and his company. However, it must be kept secret. He meets wealthy businessman Jimmy Dell(Martin) on a trip to an exotic island, and strikes up a friendship. However, all is not as it seems, and to say much more would ruin it for anyone planning on seeing it.

This is one time where it is a distinct disadvantage to have previous knowledge. House of Games was one of my favourite films, but seeing that made me instantly suspicious of everyone in The Spanish Prisoner. Indeed, Trust No One would just about do as a 3 word plot summary of this film. Campbell Scott is a very likeable actor who has never had that big hit to propel him to the A-list. A shame really, but he is perfect as the sympathetic and honest central character Joe. Steve Martin does quite well in a straight role, although would anyone really belive he was entirely honest? As in House of Games, Mamet casts his wife- then Lindsay Crouse, now Rebecca Pidgeon as secretary Susuan. She is OK, but kind of creepy- her character is one of the more ambiguous in the film- we aren't sure about her motives for a long time. However, Mamet obviously likes a very mannered and flat way of speaking. Crouse did it in House of Games and Pidgeon here. It makes them seem like really bad actors with wooden delivery of their lines. I have seen Crouse in other films and I know this isn't the case, but I haven't seen Pidgeon. I think it is deliberate on Mamet's part. Words are his thing- and he is particular about inflection.

The deceptions and counter deceptions are easy to spot I thought, and I was a little disappointed with the plot, but as I said, I think that is partly familiarity with the genre and the writer/director. Mamet has great dialogue- as you would expect, and he handles the direction pretty well, although did we really need another carousel cliche? So many films seem to use the painted ponies going round and round as a dramatic device. On the whole though, this is a thoroughly absorbing and engrossing film, one to make you think. (I still prefer House of Games though.) 7/10.

August 1998

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