House of Games review by Jackass Tom

A good con.

David Mamet is one of those writers who has a style that you can’t seem to mistake for anyone else. Some writer’s work within darkness, and others write uplifting dramas. Mamet works the con. He works it with such imagination that you can’t help it but wonder if he hadn’t pulled it off before shooting it. He creates what seems to be an elaborate mousetrap; you know, like the kind in the Tom and Jerry cartoons that start out with a bowling ball, a cuckoo clock and a fish tank. He manipulates his protagonist, in order to hit each switch and trigger according to plan, until finally the trap is sprung.

House of Games was Mamet’s directorial debut. The protagonist is Margaret Ford (Lindsey Crouse; his wife at the time), a psychologist who is intrigued by the art of the con, and more importantly self-admitted con man Mike (Joe Mantegna). The con, as stated above, is Mamet’s true medium, and here he makes no bones about it. One of his main characters is introduced as a con man (possibly the alter ego of Mamet), and introduces the audience to a few cons as well as the real work of Mamet.

Mike eventually takes Margaret under his wing and at points he even takes her for a ride. Along the way, he explains that the confidence game is not about getting someone’s confidence but giving someone else your confidence. He proves this theory on a naïve marine John Moran (a young William H. Macy). While sitting in a Western Union, Mike tells Moran that if his money comes in first, he will loan a few bucks to Moran so he can make it to his marine base in time for the morning lineup. Moran in return offers the same to Mike; after all it would be indecent not to return the favor. Of course Mike has no money wired to him so therefore knows that he will earn a quick buck from an honest man.

The problem with this film and many other David Mamet films is that he casts people that are not always the good actors. He is more concerned with using these bodies as vessels for quick-witted dialogue, and using them as pawns for running through his maze of cons. Often he casts whoever his wife at the time is (Lindsey Crouse/Rebecca Pidgeon) for the role of lead lady. Lindsey Crouse is both unappealing and a poor actress. At times it sounds like she is reading lines off a cue card. And what is with that little boy’s haircut of hers? Dear GOD!

What makes this film enjoyable of course is David Mamets web of tricks. Like a magician he seems to keep pulling rabbits out of his hat and saves the great disappearing act for the end (although the true end of this movie is a little disappointing). I would love to go into more detail, but I am holding myself back at the risk of spoiling some of the true pleasures of Mamet’s work. While its not his best film, it is true to his work and at best an entertaining mind game.

7 out of 10 Jackasses
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