Top positive review
42 people found this helpful
"Beware of all enterprises which require new clothes."
on July 10, 2004
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.