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HOUSE OF GAMES

Review by Gordon Justesen

Stars: Lindsay Crouse, Joe Mantegna
Director: David Mamet
Audio: Dolby Digital Mono
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 1.78:1
Studio: Criterion
Features: See Review
Length: 102 Minutes
Release Date: August 21, 2007

ďBut weíve had fun. You must say that.Ē

Film ****

David Mamet is truly a treasure to both the stage and the screen. Itís in the characters he creates and the rhythm of dialogue he invents that makes his work really standout from the rest. To be honest, without him I seriously think there could never have been a Quentin Tarantino, since he writes his dialogue in the same style.

House of Games was Mametís first directorial effort, and it was the absolute perfect project for him to make his debut in the directorís chair. Mamet had previously enjoyed great work as a playwright, as well as a screenwriter for such noted films as The Verdict and The Untouchables. It would lead to future directorial gigs on such gems as Heist and Spartan, his vastly underrated 2004 film that I still consider to be his masterpiece.

Just as Iím sure that Michael Mann has spent a great deal of time around career criminals as a way of doing research, Mamet has clearly hung around with con men. He has brought so much to this story in terms of the way con artists think, walk and talk. Unless Mamet knows the art of the con himself, which may just be a possibility, I canít imagine any other way of inspiration for writing a story even as Mamet himself always has a million story ideas floating in his head.

The focus of the story is Margaret Ford (Lindsay Crouse), a psychiatrist who has just written a best selling book on compulsive behavior. When a patient of hers reveals that he owes money to some shady card hustlers, she decides to look into the seedy gaming area where the men operate. This place is known as the House of Games.

Her goal is to confront whoever made the threat against her patient and talk him out of the debt having to be paid. The man she meets, Mike (Joe Mantegna), is amazed by the woman coming into his operation and proposing such an offer. He will let the debt go only if she helps him rip off a high roller in a high stakes poker game.

She agrees to the offer, and by the end of the night the plan is successful. But what Margaret doesnít count on is becoming attracted to the con. She finds herself going back to the house the next night, and wanting Mike to teach her every possible trick of the trade involving con men.

From this point on, I canít afford to spoil anymore of House of Games. If youíve happened to read any of the reviews for this movie, they hardly reveal a thing except what Iíve just explained. No matter if you seen any other con artist movies prior to this, it would still beÖwell, criminal of me to reveal the rest of the proceedings.

Mamet is also smart in the actors he chooses to translate his words, and Joe Mantegna is the perfect example. Mantegna is a longtime collaborator of Mametís and heís delivered excellent work upon each collaboration. House of Games is the actorís finest hour, as Mantegna delivers a character with a pure devilish charm with so many tricks up his sleeve that you seriously donít know what heís going to do next. And Lindsay Crouse has got some surprises of her own, but again, youíll have to watch the film to see for yourself.

House of Games is a brilliant exploration of crime and itís addiction. It also explores the psychological aspects of con artistry in a mind-blowing way as only a writer like David Mamet can execute. Itís a masterfully written and strongly acted piece, not to mention the marking of a nice little bonus career as a director for the brilliant Mamet.

Video ***1/2

A quite superb looking presentation of a 20-year-old pic. Cinematographer Juan Ruiz Anchia was brought in to supervise the new transfer, and the result is truly impressive. The film is nearly free of any daytime sequences, as most if it takes place in night or set in darkly lit areas. The anamorphic picture for this Criterion release is, as a result, all the more impressive. Some slight grain detected briefly, but thatís only a minor complaint for an otherwise fantastic looking disc.

Audio **1/2

The Mono track provided basically does what you expect in that all of the action comes mostly in the front area and nowhere else. Dialogue delivery is heard well enough, and spoken words and occasional music playback are the only elements the presentation has to work with.

Features ***1/2

No one is conned here, as Criterion unloads a mighty deck of extras for this release. The disc includes a commentary with David Mamet and consultant/actor/magician Ricky Jay, as well as brand new video interviews with actors Lindsay Crouse and Joe Mantegna, as well as the short documentary ďDavid Mamet On House Of GamesĒ, which was shot on location during the film's preparation and production. Lastly, thereís Storyboard Detail, a Theatrical Trailer, and an essay by critic Kent Jones and excerpts from Mamet's introduction to the published screenplay.

Summary:

You learn a lot of dangerous stuff watching House of Games, and thatís what makes it so completely riveting. David Mamet, in his directorial debut, weaves together a terrific and memorable psychological con game between two gritty characters. And this outstanding DVD release from Criterion is a gamble truly worth taking!

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