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`The United States of Kiss My Ass'
House of Games is the directional debut from playwright David Mamet and it is an effective and at times surprising psychological thriller. It stars Lindsay Crouse as best-selling psychiatrist, Margaret Ford, who decides to confront the gambler who has driven one of her patients to contemplate suicide. In doing so she leaves the safety and comfort of her somewhat ordinary life behind and travels `downtown' to visit the lowlife place, House of Games.
The gambler Mike (played excellently by Joe Mantegna) turns out to be somewhat sharp and shifty. He offers Crouse's character a deal, if she is willing to sit with him at a game, a big money game in the backroom, he'll cancel the patients debts. The card game ensues and soon the psychiatrist and the gambler are seen to be in a familiar line of work (gaining the trust of others) and a fascinating relationship begins. What makes House of Games interesting and an essential view for any film fan is the constant guessing of who is in control, is it the psychiatrist or the con-man or is it the well-known man of great bluffs David Mamet.
In House of Games the direction is dull and most of the times flat and uninspiring, however in every David Mamet film it is the story which is central to the whole proceedings, not the direction. In House of Games this shines through in part thanks to the superb performances from the two leads (showy and distracting) but mainly as is the case with much of Mamet's work, it is the dialogue, which grips you and slowly draws you into the film. No one in the House of Games says what they mean and conversations become battlegrounds and war of words. Everyone bluffs and double bluffs, which is reminiscent of a poker games natural order. This is a running theme throughout the film and is used to great effect at the right moments to create vast amounts of tension. House of Games can also be viewed as a `class-war' division movie. With Lindsay Crouse we have the middle-class, well-to-do educated psychiatrist and Joe Mantegna is the complete opposite, the working class of America earning a living by `honest' crime.
The film seduces the viewer much like Crouse is seduced by Mantegna and the end result is ultimately a very satisfying piece of American cinema. And the final of the film is definitely something for all to see and watch out for, it's stunning.
An extremely enjoyable film experience that is worth repeated viewings. 9/10
David Mamet wrote the screenplay and made his directorial debut with `House of Games,' a character study fraught with psychological overtones, in which a psychiatrist is lured into the dark world of the confidence game. Margaret Ford (Lindsay Crouse) has a successful practice and has written a best-selling novel, 'Driven.' Still, she is somewhat discontented with her own personal life; there's an emptiness she can neither define nor resolve, and it primes her vulnerability. When a patient, Billy Hahn (Steven Goldstein), confides to her during a session that he owes big money to some gamblers, and that they're going to kill him if he doesn't pay, she decides to intervene on his behalf. This takes her to the `House of Games,' a seedy little dive where she meets Mike (Joe Mantegna), a charismatic con-man who wastes no time before enticing her into his world. Instead of the `twenty-five large' that Billy claimed he owed, Mike shows her his book, and it turns out to be eight hundred dollars. And Mike agrees to wipe the slate clean, if she'll agree to do him one simple favor, which involves a card game he has going on in the back room. In the middle of a big hand, Mike is going to leave the room for a few minutes; while he is gone, her job is to watch for the `tell' of one of the other players. By this time, not only Margaret, but the audience, as well, is hooked. The dialogue, and Mamet's unique style and the precise cadence with which his actors deliver their lines, is mesmerizing. As Mike leads Margaret through his compelling, surreal realm of existence, and introduces her to the intricacies of the con game, we are swept right along with her. From that first memorable encounter, when he demonstrates what a `tell' is and how it works, to the lessons of the `short con,' to the stunning climax of this film, Mamet keeps the con going with an urgency that is relentless. And nothing is what it seems. In the end, Margaret learns some hard lessons about life and human nature, and about herself. She changes; and whether or not it's for the better is open to speculation. Mantegna is absolutely riveting in this film; he lends every nuance possible to a complex character who must be able to lead you willingly into the shadows, and does. Crouse also turns in an outstanding performance here; you feel the rigid, up-tight turmoil roiling beneath that calm, self-assured exterior, and when her experiences with Mike induce the change in her, she makes you feel how deeply it has penetrated. She makes you believe that she is capable of what she does, and makes you understand it, as well. The dynamic supporting cast includes Mike Nussbaum (Joey), Lilia Skala (Dr. Littauer), J.T. Walsh (The Businessman), Ricky Jay (George) and William H. Macy (Sergeant Moran). `House of Games' is the quintessential Mamet; he's written and directed a number of high-caliber plays and films since, and will no doubt grace us with more in the future. But this film will be the one that defines him; and you can go to the dictionary and look it up. You'll find it under `Perfection.' This is one great movie you do not want to miss. I rate this one 10/10.
Want to know why David Mamet stuck to writing after this with one or two more pieces of crap like this one? Watch this movie, a director is responsible for the performances he commits to film. Watch THE ARRIVAL or SLAP SHOT Lindsey Crouse is no Meryl Streep but she is light years better in those films than here. As an earlier great reviewer pointed out she sounds like a robot. Her delivery is so bad that Mantegna, playing Mike, looks pained in many of his scenes with her. This might have been a much better film with a capable director in charge. I have to compare it with Tea Leoni in DEEP IMPACT and even that is very unfair to Tea. Crouse has absolutely no inflection even before she is about to shoot Mike. She sounds Vulcan. Since she is on the screen in almost every scene, it A bombs the movie. She completely wrecks the film. Who, at Criterion Collection, decided that this should be 40 bucks on DVD? This is a classic? I grew up in the 80s and trust me nobody saw this film back then.
Like all Mamet works, this is a hit piece. The target is psychology. Look, I do not know maybe David had a therapist who overcharged him. Dave did not have too many logic classes; how do I know? In your first logic class, you learn all the logical fallacies so you can refrain from even joining combat when an opponent makes the error of using one. The whole movie is the logical fallacy of AD HOMINEM. This means to the person. If you cannot defeat someone's argument call them names or make fun of them. Let's grant all his assertions about Margaret; she is a closet sociopath, she enjoys stealing and hurting people, let's broaden it for him. Let's imagine that a majority of therapists are all corrupt just like Margaret Ford, have I proved that therapy does not work in any way? Do the mental or moral states of therapists have anything to do with the efficacy of therapy?
Yet, my friends, this is Mamet's thesis. Margaret is prototypical of hypocritical therapists who are sicker than their patients. Again, this is a giant non sequitur. The efficacy of therapy is not determined by the moral character of the fallible corrupt people who administer it any more than medical doctors treatments are undermined by their moral failings. Again, NON SEQUITUR, Dave take some logic please. Beyond these esoterics, look the film is slow, boring goes nowhere and you will endure, with the exception of Mantegna and Walsh, some of the worst acting you have ever witnessed. It will bore you to tears. We get she is goofy; OK, could we move on. No, we cannot because that is the entire point of this piece of crap. She is goofy, hence her therapy is hypocritical, ergo all psychology is a sham. Please, Dave you are embarrassing yourself.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
The plot of 'House of Games' is the strongest thing about it: a successful author and psychologist is conned by a gang of grifters, but in discovering the wicked part of herself that enjoys the thrill of what they do, she finally gets her revenge. That's about the pitch: but someone has to take responsibility for it coming across as being acted by puppets. It has to be the director Mamet: Lindsay Crouse has had a varied and pretty steady TV and film career, so she can't perform this badly all the time. She's supposed to go from uptight, cool, controlled professional to calculating, wicked fast lady having fun, as shown by the change from beige trouser suit (which she seems to wear for three days straight, including underwear) to floppy floral sundress. But everyone seems to be speaking their lines the same clipped, precise way; I imagine Mamet wanting to make sure not a syllable of his scintillating script got missed. The effect is unsettling and spoils the atmosphere of mystery and suspense he is presumably trying to create. At times 'House of Games' loses any connection to how human beings actually behave or talk, and becomes just a mechanism to spin out the plot. The clunky vibes'n'oboe faux-jazz soundtrack doesn't help either. The ultimate result is that the only entertainment to be had is in guessing the outcome, and the sooner you do that the sooner you will get bored with the robotic, two-dimensional performances. And they smoke too much!!!
If your idea of a thriller is car chases, explosions, and dozens of people
being mowed down by gunfire, then "House of Games" is definitely not the
movie for you. If you like and appreciate psychological drama and suspense,
then, by all means, see it.
"House of Games" tells the story of an esteemed psychologist and writer, Dr. Margaret Ford (Lindsay Crouse), who tries to help a patient and gets involved in the shadowy world of con men led by the charismatic Mike (Joe Mantegna). To say anything more about the plot would ruin the suspense. Frankly, I find it hard to believe anyone who says they saw the twists coming. Just like a clever con artist, this movie draws you into its web and lulls your vigilance.
The story is taut and well-crafted, the dialogue smart and laconic, the acting uniformly good (Mantegna is superbly charismatic). Some have complained that Dr. Ford is not a very sympathetic character, and wondered why Mamet would make Lindsay Crouse look so physically unattractive. But Dr. Ford is supposed to be cold and aloof; moreover, her homeliness is in a way essential to the plot (at one point, I believe that an injury to her sexual self-esteem is a key part of her motivation ... I'll say no more).
"House of Games" is a dark look at the underside of human nature that concludes on a note of discomforting ambiguity. It will hold your attention every second while you are watching, and stay with you for a long time afterwards.
HOUSE OF GAMES is one of those David mamet films I see and I sit in the theatre and say to myself I wish I could write like that. He uses hustles and con artists as a backdrop on the art of the lie and theft. lie the person who blows you a kiss and tells you they love you and behind your back is plotting your destruction. The film stars JOE MANTEGA and LINSAY CROUSE as hustlers trying to eek out a dishonest buck, Mantenga teachers Crouse the art of the grift, or the quick buck lie. The film uses a noir art house look which is refreshing. I haven't seen a good movie in a longtime. I remember ones like this and I smile, at least this was worth the price of admission as something enjoyable. There are very few films I go see now, most are pre-packaged teen skewing crap. (To each their own)I still find jewels in foreign cinema and tv. I keep hoping for a beakthrough. This film will not appeal to everyone but has a quality to it in prose and style and characterization lacking from most movies.
House of Games is a wonderful movie at multiple levels. It is a fine
mystery and a shocking thriller. It is blessed with marvelous
by Lindsay Crouse and Joe Montegna, and a strong, strong cast of
players, and it introduces Ricky Jay, card sharp extraordinaire,
prestidigitator and historian of magic. Its dialogue, written by David
Mamet, is spoken as if in a play of manners and gives the movie (in which
reality is often in question) an extra dimension of unrealness.
On the face of it, House of Games is a convincing glimpse into the unknown world of cheats and con men, diametrically different from The Sting, which was played merely for glamour and yuks. At this level it does succeed admirably.
However, you cannot escape the examination at a deeper level of the odyssey of a woman from complacent professional competence to incredible strength and self realization. The only movie I know of which treats the theme of emergence of personal strength in a woman in as worthy a way is the underrated Private Benjamin. That thoroughly enjoyable movie unfortunately diffuses its focus, hopping among several themes and exploiting the fine performance of Goldie Hawn to chase after some easy laughs. House of Games sticks to its business. As Poe once said of a good short story, it drives relentlessly to its conclusion.
There is another strain of movies-about-women, epitomized by Thelma and Louise, a big budget commercial money maker with the despicable theme that women are doomed, whether or not they realize their inner strengths. What tripe.
As usual you really ought to see this film in a movie theater. It should be a natural for film festivals. Nominate it for one near you if you get the chance.
I bought the original version of House of Games and gave it to my 23 year old daughter. Better she should see it on a TV than not at all.
I knew nothing about this movie when I saw it on tv many years ago and had
never seen 'The Sting' before seeing this. It's best to enjoy these type
movies without any prior knowledge, because if you knew anything about it
before hand, you could work out the plot after 10 minutes. A movie that
seems a straight forward thriller, but actually deals more with the desire
to explore one's darker side. Mamet maybe made some of the plot twists
a tad to obvious and doesn't quite manage to shake of a 'tv' approach, but
that doesn't matter because Joe Mantegna gives a superb performance
that lifts the other cast members above tv standard.
One of David Mamet's better movie efforts (like Untouchables, Spanish Prisoner and Glengarry Glen Ross), it's best knowing nothing about this movie before seeing it.
I've viewed this film four times and at each viewing my interest was piqued a little more and I appreciated the film a little more. Granted the stylized approach is a little off-putting at first, but on repeated viewings, it becomes appropriate in the context of the film. Lindsay Crouse,(Mamet's wife at the time), plays a psychiatrist who methodically approaches her treatment of her patients, is a very closed person, and seemingly unfulfilled; hence, her interest and eventual immersion into the activities happening in the House of Games. Her almost robotic reading of the lines seems to fit her screen personality. She is at first curious and then becomes obsessed with Joe Mantegna and his way of life. As we will see, she plays right into his hands, and so do we. I won't go into detail about the story and it's strengths since it has been said better in previous reviews on this board. But the big con is on us, the viewers......we think we know what is happening...in fact we think we know several times. WRONG!! The ending will blow you away and if you figured it out, you need to be working the con game. This is a strange, almost erotic movie that will fascinate you, even though it might take a couple a viewings to fully appreciate it.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
The first 2/3 of "House of Games" is really enjoyable, as Lindsay Crouse's psychiatrist character is engulfed into the world of professional con artists. Dr. Ford's insights into human behaviour and motivations give her a giddy thrill in watching a "mark" succumb, and by giving us a peek behind the scenes, writer/director David Mamet allows us to get drawn in right along with her. In fact, our knowledge soon overtakes Dr. Ford's, when it becomes apparent that she herself has unknowingly become the patsy in a much bigger con-within-a-con. Nothing wrong with that, except that Mamet clearly expects us to be "surprised" by this revelation, long after it's blatantly obvious to everyone except the doc. At this point, she suddenly looks extremely gullible and slow-witted, our empathy with her is lost, and no amount of enjoyably hard-boiled Mamet dialogue can redeem the rest of the movie. (Incidentally, the strangely robotic performance from the usually compelling Lindsay Crouse, the former Mrs. Mamet, should be compared to the even-stiffer Rebecca Pigeon, the PRESENT Mrs. Mamet, in 1997's not-dissimilar "Spanish Prisoner". Maybe Mamet just can't direct women who are his wives?)
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