The Spanish Prisoner

G

When I heard that The Spanish Prisoner was written by David Mamet, my hopes as well as my expectations for it skyrocketed. David Mamet, a brilliant and extremely successful screenwriter and playwright wrote two of last year’s best films, The Edge and Wag the Dog. He is, in my humble opinion, one of the best in the business. In this, his latest movie, he goes back to what he writes best, and unleashes the kind of con games and tricks that he used with House of Games, one of his first films.

Campbell Scott plays Joe Ross, a corporate inventor (where did they think of that one?) who invents a mysterious as well as valuable process to control the Global Market for the company that he works for. He goes on a business trip/vacation to the Carribean with his co-workers. There he meets Jimmy Dell, esoteric, and as we find out later, filthy rich man played by Steve Martin. They become friends (well, sort of, he doesn’t really know him yet) and when they get back to the mainland, Jimmy invites Joe to dinner. Jimmy does all kinds of favors for Joe (Jimmy and Joe — I feel ridiculous), like open up a Swiss bank account, get him a membership at an exclusive club and offer his lawyer to help (I’m warning you right now — don’t forget about those favors). But when his “process” is stolen, he gets the feeling “I’ve been had!”

It doesn’t take a genius to figure that out, but once the mystery begins (and make no mistake, the movie moves slow) it’s almost impossible to figure out just what’s going on. And yes, the movie plays fair, there are little to no inconsistencies, and we can believe what’s going on.

While there is little emotional payoff, there is just enough wonderful Mamet dialogue to keep us interested and caring about these characters. Campbell Scott doesn’t look the part, but makes up for it by doing a great job acting the part. Steve Martin underacts wonderfully as the shady business man. The only weak link in the cast is Rebecca Pidgeon, who seems uncomfortable in her tricky role.

A very impressive movie, The Spanish Prisoner entertains mightily. If you liked David Fincher’s The Game, this movie may just take you prisoner.

-- Eugene Novikov

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Screening Log

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