November 20, 2014

Cheapskate Film Festival: HOUSE OF GAMES

As you may have read on the blog, I am a big fan of caper/heist/con movies.

Everything from Hustle and Leverage to the Doctor Who episode Time Heist catches my attention, possibly because the writing has to be top-notch, and that switches and changes in perspective need to feel logical and organic. Much of that stems from one of the first "mature" movies that I had ever seen - 1987's House of Games. So when the opportunity came to view it several years on, I wondered....does it hold up?

In some ways - yes, and in other ways - not so much.

On the "not so much" side: much of the direction feels like House of Games was shot on a theatrical stage, and it feels very minimal. (In all fairness, this was David Mamet's directoral debut, and given his then-theatrical pedigree, such staging makes sense). In addition, this is a film that betrays its late-1980s origins - much of the film has that glossy look, and several times it looks a little too clean in portraying the seedy underworld in which parts of the film takes place.

On the writing side, it's sharp, clever, and never underestimates its audience. The plot is simple: a psychotherapist/successful author (Lindsay Kraus) finds herself drawn into the world of con men, and falls under the influence of a major con artist (Joe Mantegna). But the film's plot moves along at a decent page, and the reversals and shifts never feel obviously scripted. One of the drawbacks to viewing House of Games now is that so much of Mamet's terse dialogue style has been aped by other writers (and yes, I am referring to Brian Michael Bendis, why do you ask?), but House of Games is a really good, solid view.

If you're looking for a great caper-style film - or noir of a different flavor - you might want to consider House of Games.

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