Deception and Card Tricks: House of Games (1987)

David Mamet is one of those directors/screenwriters who knows how to craft an interesting story. Even if he gets a little twisty in his presentations, things usually work out. House of Games is a world of crooks, conmen, victims and thrill seekers. The audience is as much the mark as is anyone in the movie, which is why House of Games works so well. Even months after seeing Mamet’s cult classic I’m still thinking about how it unwinds, and the journey it so carefully takes the viewer on.

Lindsay Crouse is a psychiatrist named Margaret, who’s life changes forever when she meets Mike, played by the always excellent Joe Mantegna. How they meet draws you in immediately: you can sense it is all a con, yet Mamet refuses to play his hand and you are forced to guess along with Margaret. Crouse has the hard job of playing both mark and someone capable of looking at a situation and knowing she’s being played. Mantegna is ridiculously charming and offers her a way to engage her dark side.

I like how Mamet feels his audience is smart enough to understand what he is going for, and refuses to dumb anything down. He offers up this exciting and quite dangerous world that draws you in and makes you wonder how events will conclude. The film veers from drama to film noir and offers even suspense without missing a beat. Enjoying a movie that knows what it wants and offers satisfying multiple elements was probably refreshing in the 1980s and it is very much so even now.

Oh and this movie even revises and reexamines basic film noir tropes and cliches. I found the conclusion to be oddly surprising, although perhaps others do not. I wonder if had events transpired differently, could Mike and Margaret have taken a different path? Funny how just a little nudge towards a different line of destiny has such a marvelous impact. I’m reminded of that line from of all things the modern comedy Role Models: “You can’t bullshit a bullshitter.”

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