Old 03-14-2009, 04:59 PM
David Mamet's House of Games

House of Games (1987)

"House of Games" is a con wrapped in another con which is wrapped in yet another con. Seeing as how this is a "con movie" then that should come as no surprise. The trick in this film is knowing who is doing the conning and who is being conned. It's not a straightforward con film like "Ocean's Eleven" where we know all that already. This film presents an argument saying that if you are too quick to give your trust, then you become the next easy mark.

Margaret Ford (Lindsay Crouse) is a therapist who has recently published a book on obsession and compulsion. One of her patients, a compulsive gambler by the name of Billy Hahn (Steven Goldstein), tells her that he is in trouble because of his gambling debt. She decides to take matters into her own hands and approach the man he owes the money to, Mike (Joe Mantegna). She confronts him, and because he likes her attitude, he decides to call off the debt if she does him a favor: she has to help him tell if someone is bluffing in a poker game that he's in the middle of. However, she discovers that this is a big con to steal $6,000 from her. This intrigues her, making her want to return the next night to learn just how the "confidence" game works.

My only previous experience with David Mamet includes "The Untouchables" and his adaptation of Thomas Harris's "Hannibal." With "House of Games," he manages to put together a very entertaining and engrossing story, though it does have a couple of flaws, but we'll get to those later.

Mamet's screenplay successfully puts the con within the con within the con, giving the characters dialogue that is actually meaningful and allowing the story to move forward instead of wasting time on pointless conversations. Mamet could have easily thrown in a pointless romance between Mike and Margaret, which is hinted at, but not concentrated on or developed because it would take away too much from the main plot.

All of the con men, especially Joe Mantegna, do a great job of making all of the cons in the film very believable. Mantegna is able to emit that attitude that says you can trust him, which is probably why we are able to believe that most of the cons work in the film. The group as a whole makes it even more believable as they act like they don't know each other or trust each other. It's as if they are performing a play within a movie.

The most fascinating scenes in the film are when these cons take place. Mike shows us just how easy it can be to pick a mark and prey on them. There is a scene where he pretends that he is waiting for a money order when a Marine (William H. Macy) walks in to pick up one also, but it has not yet arrived. Mike tells the Marine that he will gladly give him the money he needs to get back to his base when his own money order comes in while also telling him a sob story about how he had his car stolen and was robbed of his wallet. Of course, the Marine's money order comes in first, making him feel obligated to give Mike some money to help out, but this has only been an example to show Margaret, so Mike turns it down politely. Another scene has one of Mike's friends showing us how easy it is to con a shop out of $20 by only using an envelope, 19 one dollar bills, and a little slight of mouth.

Now on to those flaws. Part of the ending becomes a little predictable in the last 30 minutes, however, to even get to that ending, we have to wait for the main character to figure out what has happened when it has been obvious to the whole audience. The problem is that this shouldn't have happened. The audience shouldn't figure out everything before Margaret does when we both see the exact same situation happening.

However, as soon as one of the main cons of the film is over, we know exactly what just happened, while she is still left in the dark. We had just seen it happen in the first 30 minutes of the film, so we can easily come to expect this again when she is presented with the same situation, which leads us to think: how could she not see it coming? Perhaps if Mamet had let more time pass between the first time it happens and the second time it happens, it wouldn't have been so obvious. Luckily, knowing this doesn't ruin the entire impact of the ending, because we still might not be able to figure out what she is going to do in the end.

Despite the obviousness of one thread of the ending, this is still a very engaging film about trickery and deception. While we are learning the cons, the film is spellbinding, leading us to believe everything that is happening in the hotel room con. Mamet and the actors take us on a wild ride that manages to fool us at nearly every turn. It just might make you question who you can really trust. 3.5/4 stars.

Last edited by Hal2001; 03-18-2009 at 11:45 AM..
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Old 03-28-2009, 06:07 PM
I just caught this on WHYY last week. It was a pleasant surprise. I primarily checked it out for Joe Mantegna (of "Criminal Minds") and also because of David Mamet's credit when it started. I knew he was supposed to be a "weird" director, like David Cronenberg. I'm glad I gave it a chance. I really enjoyed it...SPOILERS COMING NEXT...



...As soon as I knew it was about conning, I was prepared for a final con at the end. What I didn't know for sure was how deep the con would go. Admittely, when Margaret overheard the undercover cop and so on, I didn't suspect that subplot to be part of the final con. Did you? After that subplot played out and things started returning to normal, it did start to feel "too quiet." It was definitely becoming too quiet, that's for sure.

I can't help but wonder if you previously saw one million and one con movies before this. I haven't, but that didn't stop me from suspecting a con wrapped around all the cons. I believed that really was an undercover cop playing into their con to arrest them. I have a feeling that a lot of other people saw it that way too. If anything, the others expecting her to "casually" step over to the hallway of the hotel room and overhear the "undercover cop" at the right time is what comes off as "convenient plotting." Otherwise, sooner or later, things are going to feel "too quiet." I suspected that extra con, I just wasn't ready for how it would b executed.

In the end, it is a terrific film.




Last edited by Duke Nukem; 03-28-2009 at 06:11 PM..
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