Weekly Volcano Blogs: Walkie Talkie Blog

December 24, 2013 at 10:46am

Check This Out: "House of Games" (1987)

Impressive and intriguing directorial debut for Mamet, with Lindsay Crouse's shrink getting entangled with Joe Mantegna's high-roller.

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Every Tuesday, "Check This Out" recommends movies available at your friendly local library. So you can satisfy your next film fix at the place with the books.

I once read an essay on Alfred Hitchcock's film Vertigo (currently poised at the top of my favorites list) in which the author took six pages just to analyze the first shot. Luckily for you, I won't cram an already crowded Internet with nearly that many words regarding the opening moments of 1987's House of Games. (Yay!) But basically, the shot consists of a dolly moving left, the camera gliding smoothly over the brown pebbles of a gravel path. On the soundtrack we hear footsteps, but from where we don't know.

Nothing remarkable, I know, until the camera pulls out and the path isn't a path at all, but the vertical side of a structure standing in a plaza surrounded by high-rises. Instead of looking down on the ground, we've in reality been staring straight ahead this whole time - a bit of a dizzying, disorienting feeling, something like ... vertigo? The footsteps belong to a woman running across the plaza.

Misdirection abounds in acclaimed playwright David Mamet's stylish debut feature. His script centers on successful author and therapist Margaret Ford (played by Mamet's ex Lindsay Crouse), whose promise to a suicidal patient sends her into a noir-ish world of cons and criminals. With words as smooth as his shave, Joe Mantegna plays the sharp swindler Mike, who introduces Margaret to his bag of tricks (in more ways than one). It's all fun and Games until one job goes too far. ...

Mamet's performers speak his lines in an entertainingly detached, self-conscious way; trying the English language on and breaking it in like a pair of new shoes. Double crosses pile on top of one another, the jazzy score is pure '80s, and let's not forget Mamet shot part of HofG in, of all places, Seattle. In exchange for touristy shots of Emerald City icons - except for perhaps an off-ramp sign for I-90 - you have steam rising from the sewer grates, empty city streets slicked down after a good rain - as Hollis croons in Macklemore's "White Walls," "this city never looked so bright" ... or delightfully dark.

Filed under: Screens,
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