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William H. Macy
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Joe Ross is a rising star. He's designed a process that will make his company millions. He wants a bonus for this work, but fears his boss will stiff him. He meets a wealthy stranger, Jimmy Dell, and they strike up an off-kilter friendship. When the boss seems to set Ross up to get nothing, he seeks Dell's help. Then he learns Dell is not what he seems, so he contacts an FBI agent through his tightly-wound assistant, Susan Ricci. The FBI asks him to help entrap Dell. He accepts, a sting is arranged, but suddenly it's he who's been conned out of the process and framed for murder. Bewildered and desperate, he enlists Susan's aid to prove his innocence. Written by
Joseph Ross is a young man who's employed by a major corporation to come up with an important formula that could make his company and including himself - incredibly wealthy. On an Caribbean holiday along with his business partners he meets the very likable Jimmy Dell and over time they become friends. But things start getting really worrying for Joseph, as he feels that his employers are trying to take all the credit for what's about to come. So Joseph turns to Jimmy for advice on the matter and Jimmy gladly lends a helping hand.
Now, "The Spanish Prisoner" has got to be one of the most undeservedly, overlooked small-scale thrillers of the last decade. The only reason I can think why; is because it's really a glum and quite subdue film that relies on a well-written story to keep you mesmerized and rather bamboozled. There's nothing overly stylish about it, but it's such an elegant and easy going exercise that's professionally handled all round, despite the elementary factors. So don't be expecting a pot-boiler with plenty of fast-paced thrills from this one. For me it's up there with another under-appreciated 90s thriller "Arlington Road". These were two films I knew nothing about, but when I accidentally came across them I was more than impressed in what I saw.
The shady, paranoid premise is standard stuff for films of this ilk with it being cluttered with the usual cunning double crossings and misleading revelations. But while you might pick up on the web of deceit with it's twists and turns, it's just that the complicated story is far more cerebral in its patterns that you are just compelled by it all. The further along the story goes, the more interesting it does get with the spontaneous structure flowing with concise dialogues and underling sharp wit. Just who can you trust? What are their true intentions? Are they who they say they are? Money, Money, Money? Well, we are talking about high fliers here ;). This sorely thorough cloud hangs high that it will have you thinking. Some twists and bluffs you might see coming, but really you are never quite sure how its entirely going to pan out. Also I couldn't shake the feel of old style crime thrillers from the glass like texture that was manufactured here. The film's location had an atmospheric strong-hold that got swept along with its softly, moody music score.
The performances were very good. Steve Martin was more than efficient as he played a unconventional role where he had to provide a real mystic edge and a laid-back attitude to his character. Campbell Scott was satisfactory in a pretty bleak role as Joseph. That's not because of the performance, but that was the character in the story and it's a real important element on how things played out. The support roles were strong by the likes of Rebecca Pigeon, Ben Gazzara, Ricky Jay and Felicity Huffman. Director / writer David Mamet has provided a tight and quite entertaining thriller that's a puzzle to work out.
A vividly, ingenious thriller that plays it rather patiently.
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