Written and directed by David Mamet.

If you are familiar with Mamet, you know that he is known for his incredible smart and intricate plots, as well as his colourful dialogue, and in HOUSE OF GAMES, his debut feature film, he shines.  I just watched this and it was brilliant!  I'm trying to remember where I heard about it, but I'm glad I put it on my "to-watch" list when I did because this is truly a hidden gem of a film.  It is a sharp and witty neo-noir, steeped in expressive lighting, paranoia, twists and turns, and dynamic characters.  It is a world where it is impossible to know who to trust, and even the protagonist's motives are dubious.

Straight-edged Dr. Margaret Ford (Lindsay Crouse)
The story is that of a successful therapist who has recently hit it big with a best-selling self-help book.  Dr. Margaret Ford (Lindsay Crouse) has everything: a successful career, burgeoning fame, money, and respect from her peers, but something seems to be missing in her precise and regulated life.  She is a workaholic, and has become so engrossed in her cases that she has begun to blend her own life with that of her subjects.  A friend suggests she step back and take time to enjoy life, to do something that excites her, now she has accomplished some life goals.  Taking this advice, she follows up a lead and visits a man, Mike (Joe Montegna) who is putting one of her clients under extreme personal stress.   Her patient, a gambling addict, appears to owe Mike twenty-five thousand dollars, and he's threatened to kill him if he can't return it by the next day.  From here Margaret crosses over into the world of the confidence man.  She becomes obsessed with learning the motives of a man like Mike, and wants to learn more about how a morally ambiguous person like him operates day-to-day.  To Mike, and herself (superficially, it would seem), she claims her curiosity is driven by her profession as "a writer".  But deep down inside they both know that she lusts after some excitement, an edge to her life that can give the rest of it all meaning.

A younger Joe Montegna is a smooth-as-ice cardsharp.

What follows is a twisty and turny mystery story, where it is impossible to say where reality ends and a con begins.  Margaret becomes involved in a confidence scheme, but who is really being fleeced?  Characters come and go, but who knows whether they truly are strangers, or just accomplices in on the take?  It is also a intriguing look into the world of the confidence man.  This is not a new or original topic to be explored in film, but under Mamet's expert scripting, it becomes a fascinating film to watch.  Mamet is primarily known for his theater, but his is an art that translates effectively to film.  At times it feels like it is theater, but it doesn't matter, his dialogue is immersing.  His actors deliver the lines theatrically, and I mean this not as a criticism, but rather an observation.  Like many great films, where the actors speak in ways that people likely wouldn't normally -- for example old film noirs like THE BIG SLEEP or THE MALTESE FALCON -- the dialogue is so liquid and rich, it doesn't matter.

For anyone interested in Mamet, film noir, mysteries, stories about confidence men, or poker, take a look at this film.  Criterion recently put out an excellent DVD of it.  It is a fascinating film, and one that will leave you questioning things up to -- and beyond -- the last frame.


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