Sunday 17 March 2024

Movie Review: House Of Games (1987)

Genre: Crime Drama  
Director: David Mamet  
Starring: Joe Mantegna, Lindsay Crouse, J.T. Walsh  
Running Time: 102 minutes  

Synopsis: Psychiatrist and successful author Dr. Margaret Ford (Lindsay Crouse) learns that her troubled client Billy Hahn is being threatened over a gambling debt. Determined to help, she confronts Mike (Joe Mantegna), the man holding Billy's IOU, at the scuzzy House Of Games pool hall. Margaret finds Mike's combination of charm and confidence irresistible compared to her cold and lonely life, and she is drawn into his world of psychological manipulation for profit.

What Works Well: The milieu of scam artists thriving in the dark is conveyed with pleasing aesthetics, and contrasts sharply with Margaret's scrubbed professional environment. Her lack of fulfillment and subsequent attraction to Mike's seedy antics drives the plot, writer and debut director David Mamet questioning the value of risk-free existence. Joe Mantegna never betrays his character's essence as a man who thrives on exploiting weaknesses in others, and is ably supported by a cast featuring J.T. Walsh, William H. Macy, Mike Nussbaum, and Ricky Jay.

What Does Not Work As Well: After the initial con, the other twists along Margaret's journey to danger are quite easy to see through, and the ending abandons cleverness altogether in favour of old-fashioned score-settling. In a clipped and cold performance, Lindsay Crouse (Mrs. David Mamet at the time) struggles mightily to convey relatable emotions, creating instead an unfortunate vacuum at the story's core.

Conclusion: Rich with mood, but not quite as clever as it wants to be.

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