Thursday, March 22, 2007


I've always been a sucker for the films of David Mamet. And the phrasing of that sentence is intentional, as his films often involve the mechanics of the confidence artist. In the most literal sense in House of Games and Heist, as Hollywood in State and Main (and Wag the Dog), as salesmen in Glengarry Glen Ross as military homeland security in Spartan (and a re-write of Ronin) and as corporate business in The Spanish Prisoner.

For some reason the film I keep coming back to is The Spanish Prisoner. Perhaps it is the strangely off-kilter acting or the low-key aspects of the film (the artificiality is part of the point), or that I just like to see Campbell Scott starring in anything (note one of the very first KBT screenings - Roger Dodger). Steve Martin is in the film as well and is finely cast against type, with nary a smile or over-the-top slapstick gag in sight.

The story follows a mathematician, Joe Ross (Scott) who works for a large corporation. He has invented (but not yet patented or protected) a financial process that is going to make the corporation a lot of money. Mamet plays coy in that he never reveals what the process is, how it works, or even what function it will serve. Alfred Hitchcock used to call this a MacGuffin. It doesn't matter what it is, only that a lot of people want it. While celebrating its completion on a tropical island, Ross meets a mysterious millionaire (Martin). Over drinks, the millionaire plants the seed in Ross's head that the company is going to take both the process, and the credit, away from him. Once trust is lost in the company, all sorts of deceptions and double crosses take place. The movie is at once impossible to assemble, and jarringly obvious.

That professional magician Ricky Jay has a small role in the film is evidence that an illusion of the highest order is being crafted. The very title of the film is explained at one point, something that has lived on in the form of internet spam, with the Spaniard being replaced with a Nigerian. Of course the dialogue and delivery is artificial and electric in that special way only David Mamet is capable of. For those who want their brains to fire on all cylinders while watching a film more for the exercise of just thinking than anything else. The Spanish Prisoner provides an unusual workout.


Post a Comment

<< Home