House of Games (1987)


Bil’s rating (out of 5):  BBBB

USA, 1987.  Filmhaus.  Story by , David Mamet, Screenplay by David Mamet.  Cinematography by .  Produced by .  Music by .  Production Design by .  Costume Design by .  Film Editing by .  

Lindsay Crouse is excellent as a psychiatrist who has hit the limelight with the publication of a best-selling book.  High on her superior power, she blurs the professional line when a patient of hers tells her that he is on the hook with a bunch of gamblers and is in danger of being killed, and she responds by finding the bad guys (led by ) to put a stop to them.  What she steps into is a world of brilliant con men who take innocent dupes into their fold and work them over for big-time cash, which fascinates her and inspires her to get involved for the purpose of writing a book on the nature of the grifting game.  While many of the twists in this film, David Mamet’s first as director, are pretty easy to see coming, that doesn’t lessen the pleasure of seeing it all play out, with outstanding performances delivered in gorgeously lit seedy bars and hotel rooms.  Scenes are constructed with masterful control and great dramatic power, the tight plotting lessened only by the usual, stale sexual dichotomy typical of Mamet’s writing (men are naturally intellectual, women can’t help but be emotional).  Placing it within the stereotypes of a well-worn genre, here updating film noir to the modern age with a B-movie feel, keeps it from being too sore a point, plus the pleasure of our heroine never knowing if she is perpetrator or victim gives it a lot of humour, but an ending in which Crouse got more involved in the mind games being played would have been far more satisfying.

The Criterion Collection:  #399

Golden Globe Award Nomination:  Best Screenplay

Venice Film Festival Award:  Best Screenplay

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