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There's different ways to learn lessons
19 November 2004
The premise of the movie is that two very different kind of drifters hook up. One being Pozzi (James Spader), a professional card player and the other Nashe (Mandy Patinkin), an ex-firefighter whose wife abandoned him and their young daughter. He has left his child with his sister and is driving around the country in an attempt to run from his pain.

Nashe decides to bankroll Pozzi in a poker game with two rich eccentrics (played dauntingly enough by Charles Durning and Joel Grey). Pozzi is convinced the men will be an easy take but as fate would have it, he not only loses Nashe's last ten grand and beloved BMW, but with Nashe's help, they get themselves ten thousand dollars in debt to the two wealthy men. One of the players has the idea of letting them pay off the debt by building a wall monument out of 10,000 stones imported from a castle in Europe. Pozzi is outraged but cannot bring himself to leave Nashe, who is agreeable to working off the debt. They'll live in a trailer in the meadow for several weeks while working on the monument. Their days of labor, supervised by Calvin (M. Emmet Walsh) and evening discussions are interesting enough.

I have the feeling the movie would have been more enjoyable if I'd read the novel and couldn't help but imagine how the book was worded as I watched the movie a second time. It is one of those films I can watch again and again. I'm still trying to figure out the lessons besides the obvious: gambles, playing out of your league, getting in over your head and that there's no such thing as a "sure thing".

Pozzi and Nashe may have different world views but they don't clash, they actually compliment each other rather nicely. I thought it profound when Pozzi blames Nashe for breaking his winning streak by wandering off during the fabled game and into the "City of the World" room. There Nashe swipes a tiny replica of their antagonists. Pozzi asserts that Nashe broke the streak by violating the Universe in some way, destroying the harmony they had enjoyed while winning. Nashe thinks this absurd and that Pozzi is giving power to a little piece of wood and sets it on fire to prove his point. This "City of the World" room is toy land built by one of the rich poker player's (Joel Grey's Stone). It's his view of what was and what should be. Disturbingly enough, it contains prisoners happily paying for their crimes. It's a tool for foreshadowing some events and also portrays the wealthy eccentric's power over their pawns. And though the "City of the World" is Stone's baby, one gets the feeling that Charles Durning's Flower character was the real ruler of their kingdom.

The movie only features about ten actors, making it clean and simple fare. James Spader does a superb job of making a creepy, little hustler likable. He is helped by Mandy Patinkin's soothing performance of a damaged but composed soul who's sympathy for Pozzi is contagious.

Beneath Nashe's stoicism his emotions are as palpable as Pozzi's outward agitation. A soft-spoken and strangely plotted story, it's quite a rare gem.
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Very impressed
2 June 2004
I just saw this film for the first time recently and I keep watching it over and over before I have to return it. I wasn't expecting such a great film. I agree with the Vietnam metaphor, but it was lighter fare being set in the Louisiana Bayou. There was never a dull moment and there was just the right amount of humor between the tension. The cast was great, most of the acting was very believable. It was surely one of Powers Boothe's best performances. One reason I enjoy it so much is because there isn't a lot of high-tech special effects. The bear-traps are quite effective. Also in the very tense last 20 minutes, there's blood & guts and it's real blood & guts. I was very creeped out when Hardin looks out a window and sees hangmen nooses being strung up. I'm affected every time. He can say more with his eyes than most people can with their mouth. His brooding intensity playing off of Carradine's lightness was perfect. Fred Ward was great too. I have not one bad thing to say about this movie and it's incorrect to say it is anti-Cajun. It's message was respect the natives. Sometimes we don't do that. I lived near quite a few National Guardsmen in Oregon, and, yes, the movie was believable in relation to them.
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