Following the theft of a postal-order, a fourteen-year old cadet is expelled from Naval College. To save the honour of the boy and his family, the pre-eminent barrister of the day is engaged to take on the might the Admiralty.
A fateful event leads to a job in the film business for top mixed-martial arts instructor Mike Terry. Though he refuses to participate in prize bouts, circumstances conspire to force him to consider entering such a competition.
A famous psychologist, Margaret Ford, decides to try to help one of her patients get out of a gambling debt. She visits the bar where Mike, to whom the debt is owed, runs poker games. He convinces her to help him in a game: her assignment is to look for "tells", or give-away body language. What seems easy to her becomes much more complex.Written by
John J. Magee <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Debut theatrical feature film of costume designer Nan Cibula. See more »
Margaret asks the House of Games's barman to call Mike out. Then he enters in the game room and closes the door. We don't see him comes back. So Mike opens the door and comes to talk her. During the conversation we don't see the barman behind the counter. But after Mike went to the game room, the barman appears behind the counter. See more »
Here's my first David Mamet directed film. Fitting, since it was his first, as well.
The story here is uneven and it moves along like any con movie, from the little cons to the big cons to the all-encompassing con. It's like "The Grifters," but without that film's level of acting. (In that film, John Cusack was sort of bland but that was the nature of his character.) The acting here is very flat (I sometimes wondered if the bland acting by Crouse was supposed to be some sort of attack on psychoanalysis). At least in the beginning. It never gets really good, but it evolves beyond painfully stiff line reading after about ten minutes. Early in the film, some of Lindsay Crouse's lines -- the way she reads them -- sound as if they're inner monologue or narration, which they aren't. With the arrival of Mantegna things pick up.
The dialogue here isn't as fun as it should be. I was expecting crackerjack ring-a-ding-ding lines that roll off the tongue, but these ones don't. It all sounds very read, rather than spoken. Maybe Mamet evolved after this film and loosened up, but if not, then maybe he should let others direct his words. He's far too precious with them here and as a result, they lose their rhythmic, jazzy quality. What's more strange is that other than this, the film doesn't look or feel like a play. The camera is very cinematic. My only problem with "Glengarry Glen Ross" was that it looked too much like filmed theatre, but in that film the actors were not only accomplished, but relaxed and free. Everything flowed.
I wouldn't mind so much if it sounded like movie characters speaking movie lines -- or even play characters speaking play lines -- but here it sounds like movie (or even book) characters speaking play lines. It's a weird jumble of theatre and film that just doesn't work. That doesn't mean the movie is bad -- it isn't, it's often extremely entertaining. The best chunk is in the middle.
It's standard con movie stuff: the new guy (in this case, girl) Margaret Ford (Lindsay Crouse) gets involved in the seedy con underworld. How she gets involved is: she's a psychiatrist and one of her patients, Billy is a compulsive gambler. She wants to help him out with his gambling debt, so she walks into The House of Games, a dingy game room where con men work in a back room. I'll admit the setup is pretty improbable. (Were they just expecting Crouse to come in? Were they expecting she'd write a cheque? Was Billy in on it? One of these questions is definitely answered by the end, however.)
And from here the cons are start to roll out. I found the beginning ones -- the little learner ones -- to be the most fun. We're getting a lesson in the art of the con as much as Crouse is.
We see the ending coming, and then we didn't see the second ending coming, and then the real ending I didn't see coming but maybe you did. The ball just keeps bouncing back and forth and by the last scene in the movie we realize that the second Crouse walked into The House of Games she found her true calling.
I'm going to forgive the annoying opening, the improbable bits and the strange line-reading because there are many good things here. If the first part of the movie seems stagy, stick with it. After the half-hour mark it does really get a momentum going. If you want a fun con movie, then here she is. If you want Mamet, go watch "Glengarry Glen Ross" again -- James Foley did him better.
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