Down From the Shelf ~ House of Games

The Facts:

Synopsis: A psychiatrist comes to the aid of a compulsive gambler and is led by a smooth-talking grifter into the shadowy but compelling world of stings, scams, and con men.

Stars: Lindsay Crouse, Joe Mantegna, Ricky Jay, Lilia Skala

Director: David Mamet

Rated: R

Running Length: 102 minutes

TMMM Score: (7.5/10)

Review:  I recently noted in my review of the trailer for Now You See Me that it’s hard to put magic onscreen because audiences don’t like to be cheated.  Especially in film, anything to do with magic or trickery can be doubly frustrating for a viewer than a live performance because we know that the actors/directors onscreen had the safety of an extra take to get it right.  House of Games is one of the rare exceptions where an audience will welcome the sleight of hand both visually and thematically that’s pulled on them and respect the magicians that pull it off.

Making his directorial debut in this 1987 trick of a film, Mamet has everything in order from the start.  What’s true of Mamet on the stage is also true of Mamet onscreen…he doesn’t tell you anything or show you anything he doesn’t want you to see.  That way, when you find the rug has been pulled out from under you (as Crouse does several times in the film) you only have yourself to blame because the clues were there from the beginning.

Though a tad less clever than some of his later films, House of Games stands out today as a highly respectable directorial debut of the master wordsmith and one of Crouse’s (the now ex-Mrs. Mamet) best performances.  She’s a psychiatrist that blindly gets in with the wrong crowd of people, led by Mantegna as a con man that practically licks his lips when he sees naïve Crouse enter the bar where he has set up shop.  She’s there to help out a friend that’s in trouble; he’s more than willing to show her why he’s not to be trusted.

To give more of the film away would really be a disservice for anyone with even a passing interest in the movie but let’s just say that the movie is has more twists than a bundle of holiday lights – just when you think you’ve unraveled it all you see that you’ve only gotten more tangled up.  I’ve seen the film several times over the years and it gets better with each repeat viewing.  It’s a mature film for adults that like their films smart, savvy, and clever enough to be interesting without being frustrating.

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