Monday, May 01, 2017

Downbeat Mamet

A few days ago I wrote about the possibility of listing the movies I watch. I'm not sure that my enthusiasm at that point has continued. I may just carry on writing up movies in my journal and on here, in the blog. At least then those that hit the spot in either a negative or positive fashion will get remembered a bit better.

I watched House of Games last night. It turned up on Maori TV, which was a bit odd, although they do have a reputation for showing offbeat movies - more often foreign than English. My feeling about House of Games, which dates back to 1987 and was written and directed by David Mamet, is that this is a movie best-forgotten. Roger Ebert, who can be relied upon in general to come up with good commonsense and taste in regard to movies praises it highly. In fact there are two reviews of it by him online. He revisited it in 1999, and saw it as one of the great movies.

Um. I have to say, Mr Ebert, that in this case I'm puzzled. It's a typical Mamet movie; amoral characters, lots of nifty dialogue and a storyline that has potential. However, Mamet's direction is very stagey, the actors are often placed is quite unrealistic poses, and the star of the piece, Lindsay Crouse, exhibits almost no expression from beginning to end. Well, not quite. She smiles once, in one of the last scenes, because she's got away with murder, literally, and now also has the idea that stealing from other people is some kind of triumph. She's supposed to be a psychiatrist, but doesn't appear to have much idea what that job is actually about. And apart from the last-minute smile, Crouse goes through the role as though she's dead behind the eyes. Perhaps this was intentional. Maybe Mamet asked her to be like that.

The men in the cast are all good, particularly Joe Mantegna, and play their confidence trickster roles with ease and subtlety. Which makes it all the more odd that Crouse is so deadpan. If the story is meant to be about a woman who's really venal underneath but has been hiding it, then it makes little sense in terms of the role she plays early in the piece. If she thinks that being a confidence trickster is an acceptable job, even though she's reminded on a number of occasions that it's a criminal's job, she pays not attention. In the end you don't have much idea what goes on in her head. With the result that the scene where she murders the main male character makes little sense. Yes, she's been conned by him, but she knew who these guys were, and allowed herself to be taken in. She's no dupe, after all, and stands up to people without difficulty, most of the time, including a young patient threatening to kill himself with a gun, in her office.

Mamet seems to delight in unpleasant characters, ones we find it hard to sympathise with. (I had to switch off Glengarry Glen Ross because the Alec Baldwin character was so foul-mouthed and bullying, and because the world the salesmen inhabited was so utterly bleak.) It's as if his view of the world is focused so much on the dark side of things that he can't see the light. Incidentally, in spite of the black and white, film noir look of the poster, the film is in colour, though many scenes take place at night, with gloomy interiors. Crouse wears some of the most awful 80s costumes I've seen in a while, and her hairstyle is more masculine, somehow, than feminine. Maybe this also was intentional.

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