How Far Can You Push The Con? – House of Games (1987)

I actually came to David Mamet’s House of Games a bit sideways. Nowadays, of course, it would catch my eye because of Mamet’s name and my love for his unique style of writing dialogue. However I actually saw House of Games long before I was aware if Mamet as a screenwriter and director. No, it was another name that first drew me to this movie. One of the actors.

Ricky Jay.

Now, I can already hear many of you out there saying “Ricky Who?”, and that’s completely understandable, because Ricky Jay is not exactly a name that, as they say, puts butts in seats – at least not for the majority of people. For people who enjoy illusionists and especially card manipulation, on the other hand, Ricky Jay’s name is one to – pardon the pun – conjure with.

Ricky Jay was born with magic in his blood, being the grandson of illusionist Max Katz, and made his first television performance at the age of four. In what had to be an absolutely intriguing evening, Ricky Jay once performed between rock queen Tina Turner and Timothy Leary who was there that night to lecture about LSD.

What makes Jay so intriguing, though, is not so much his skill at card manipulation, which is prodigious, but his interest in, and exploration of, the history of magic. He has written a number of books on the subject and also produced a number of specials featuring not only illusions that he created but also those of the masters of the past.

Anyway, it was the presence of Ricky Jay in the cast list that initially brought me to House of Games.

Then I discovered Mamet

Now don’t get me wrong I’m not one off those who think David Mamet can do no wrong (State and Main, I’m looking at you), but when he is on, Mamet has a control of dialogue that is rarely equaled.

It does, however, take someone who is in sync with Mamet’s style to deliver that dialogue properly. There is definitely a stiltedness to it that can be off-putting and can sound incredibly forced and fake without the proper attitude behind it.

Fortunately for House of Games, which is in many ways an updated version of The Sting, where no one can be trusted and nothing and no-one is ever quite what they seem, Mamet’s dialogue s a perfect fit, and in stars Lindsay Crouse an Joe Mantegna he has found the perfect actors to bring that dialogue to life.

There is a certain flatness, a remove to the delivery that can be a bit off-putting, but at the same times adds to the sense of distrust the pervades the movie and makes ever person, every action, and every statement seem suspect. Plus, the plot takes a number of twists that keeps the viewers on their toes and uncomfortable, which is just how the con artists that are at the center of the film want things.

Here’s your trailer:


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