"Beware of all enterprises which require new clothes."
cookieman108 | Inside the jar... | 07/10/2004
(4 out of 5 stars)
"The art of the confidence game, or con, for short...very few manage to bring it to the screen as well or a clever as David Mamet, and The Spanish Prisoner (1997) is, while not in my opinion his best, but better than most, and certainly is a good display of Mamet's writing and style for direction. Written and directed by Mamet (House of Games, Glengarry Glen Ross, Wag the Dog), the film stars Campbell Scott, Steve Martin, Ben Gazzara, and Rebecca Pidgeon (who's married to Mamet).
Scott plays Joseph Ross, an inventor who creates a top secret mathematical formula of sorts intended to allow for the manipulation of the stock market somehow, and has the potential to make a lot, a whole lot, of money for the company he works for...problem is Ross is beginning to have doubts about receiving his fair share, what he believes he's entitled to, from the company that plans to utilize the formula. As he tries to negotiate an equitable agreement with the company, he meets a well to do businessman by the name of Julian `Jimmy' Dell (Martin) to which they become friendly, with Jimmy even offering to assist Joseph by putting him in contact with a lawyer that deals with contract law and proprietary information. But nothing is what it seems in this film, as Joseph soon learns as he's accused of theft of the formula, and even murder, as evidence begins appearing that certainly points the finger at him, becoming the perfect patsy. Will he be able to fully understand the intricacies of the con and learn who's involved before he captured by the police and/or FBI? I know, but you'll just have to watch to find out...
I really enjoyed this film, and all its' intricate twists and turns. It's difficult to talk about without giving anything away, but the story is truly a wonderful mystery that will keep you guessing until the end, even if you manage to uncover some of the elements for yourself. The crafting of the con within the story is really good, even though we see so very little of the machinations and planning behind it, instead seeing only the end results, as Scott's character is drawn into a world of fabrication, deceit, and lies. My favorite role here was the character played by Steve Martin. I thought he did an excellent job presenting a charming and sophisticated character, playing the rare serious role. I do enjoy many of his comedic roles, but it's always a treat to see an actor successfully break out of his/her element and show they are more than what we see on the surface. Scott was good, although I felt his character was just a bit too gullible at times, especially given the nature of his work. I've never really cared for him much as an actor as he reminds me too much of that lame white guy from the 3rd season of MTV's The Real World (I think his name was Judd). He was such a smarmy, wishy washy annoyance always following the majority, trying to present an image of the understanding, evolved, sophisticated, yet oh-so-sensitive male in touch with his feminine side, ever careful never to appear politically incorrect for fear of being offensive to the viewers on the other end of the camera, spouting meaningless phrases that make you want to punch him in the face like "I feel your pain", or "Why can't we all just get along?" but I digress...
A couple of things about Mamet's movies, sort of his signatures to me, is the direction by Mamet giving the film the feel of not so much watching a film but of watching a play on film unfold outside of a stage and also the often times odd dialogue spoken throughout by a number of lead characters. I think the latter element is what may put some viewers off, as it can sound very unrealistic and sometime contrived. I mean have you ever heard anyone say, "Worry is like interest paid in advance on a debt that never comes due"? It sounds nice, but I know of no one in real life that talks like this, spouting strange and introspective statements off the cuff (you could catch a beating in my neighborhood for doing so). I suppose the character played by Rebecca Pidgeon had the most noticeably odd lines, especially seeming out of her character. Maybe these looked good on paper, but I feel it takes a really good actor to pull them off on screen, and make them sound natural. I like Rebecca Pidgeon, as she's very sexy in a demure way and, I believe, a capable actress, but I felt she wasn't able to pull off some of the lines she was given here, within the context of her character.
The picture presented here looks very clear and crisp, and the disc is two sided, with a wide screen version on one side, and full screen format on the other. I did feel the audio was a bit soft, but English subtitles are available. I did find the subtitles didn't always match exactly what was spoken, and I thought that a little weird. Not much here with regards to special features other than a theatrical trailer and brief production notes on the insert inside the DVD.
Overall, I think The Spanish Prisoner is a very good, low-key mystery thriller that will keep you on your toes until the end and does have replay value if only to better understand the layered complexities within the story (I've seen it twice), but I still feel a better Mamet film to watch is the first he wrote and directed in House of Games, with Lindsay Crouse and Joe Mantegna.
Another Great Con-Game Movie From Mamet
Craig Bleakley | Normal, IL USA | 02/02/1999
(5 out of 5 stars)
"First, there is Mamet's dialogue: punchy, pungent, at once surreal and downright earthy, a pidgin English that starts out sounding weird and contrived in the actor's mouths and ends sounding as honest as breathing. Remember, this guy is also a Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright. Then there's Mamet's plotting: we know there are going to be "bad" people--masters of the Big Con--conniving to steal Campbell Scott's lucrartive "process" (one of the best MacGuffin's since Hitchcock), but trying to determine who's in on it and who's an innocent (?) bystander is one of the ongoing delightful puzzles of the movie. Mamet slowly reveals the true colors of his characters like a master at stud poker. Eventually poor Campbell realizes he's been robbed, framed and screwed eight ways til Sunday (in a brilliant interrogation scene where most of the pieces come together), and as viewers, we feel as tightly trapped as he does.Finally there are the perfomaces: Scott's nicely understated playing of the niave but brainy techno-geek, Steve Martin's deft characterization of the moody, mysterious millionare, and Rebecca Pigeon's suspiciously winsome gal Friday. Many of Mamet's old "Chicago school" regulars show up, though poor Ricky Jay gets stuck mouthing a lot of platitudes--one of the few weakness of Mamet's script.Yes, maybe this film isn't quite as brilliant as "House of Games," Mamet's previous exploration of the Big Con, but darn few movies are. The deus ex machina ending is less satisfying than "House"'s more character-driven conclusion, and I sure miss Joe Mantegna (no one spits out Mamet's dialog with quite his authority). Nonetheless, "Prisoner" stands up to multiple viewings without losing its appeal or mystery, and may in fact require more than one viewing in order to be truly appreciated for its labyrinthine plotting and underlying themes."
Ingeniously plotted thriller which moves at breakneck speed.
Mary Whipple | New England | 09/08/2004
(4 out of 5 stars)
"Written and directed by David Mamet, this clever thriller of industrial espionage is full of surprising twists and turns which keep the viewer on the edge of the seat. Joe Ross (Campbell Scott), a young man working under a special contract, has developed "the process" which will allow a company to control the global market. Only Ross and the company president, Mr. Klein (Ben Gazzara), have keys to the safe where the notes on the process are kept, and high security has been maintained, but Ross is edgy. Klein has not paid him a bonus and is dragging his feet about rewarding him appropriately.
Devious manipulators conspire to make Ross even more uncertain about Klein's loyalty, hoping they can steal the formula and sell it to European or Japanese competitors. Front and center in the plot is Jimmy Dell (smarmily played by Steve Martin), who masquerades as a very wealthy high flyer, appealing to Ross's desire to get what he deserves and fears he won't get from Mr. Klein. Appealing to Ross's natural paranoia, Dell soon has him doing exactly what he wants, as Ross tries to "protect" himself from Klein.
This intricately plotted conspiracy keeps the viewer on the edge of the chair, trying to figure out what is going on. As Ross begins to discover Dell's lies, the film offers one surprise after another, and these surprises keep coming right up to the blockbuster ending. Viewers will be fascinated to look back to see how the conspiracy and the plotting have set them up for the surprises. The music introducing the film is appropriately romantic, mysterious, and ominous, and repeats throughout for emphasis. The cinematography (Gabriel Beristain), even for somewhat trite scenes, is effective and adds to the suspense.
Unfortunately, the dialogue is filled with clichés and clunky remarks, a surprise considering Mamet's stage background. Unrealistic and ponderous comments abound, always followed by a trenchant pause. Dell, remarking to Ross about his sister, says, "All we ever had was each other (pause)." A policeman tells Ross, "You'll be back (pause)." Another says, "Always do business as if the person you're doing business with is [betraying] you (pause)." The acting is generally good, and Ed O'Neil has a nice cameo as an FBI investigator. Rebecca Pidgeon, Mamet's wife, plays Susan Ricci, a role which is not clearly developed or integrated and for which she seems a bit too mature. Despite the clumsy dialogue, this is an exciting film, great fun to watch for its unexpected twists and turns. Mary Whipple"
Wyatt G | Boulder, CO | 09/29/2006
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Loved this movie. It had great mystery and tongue and cheek humor at the same time. I really don't want to give anything away because I knew nothing about this film when I saw it, which was great because there were so many twists that kept me completely interested throughout. The main character, Joe, can't trust anyone and you'll see why. Enjoy."