Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright and screenwriter David Mamet first sat in the director's chair for this sly, merciless thriller. Mamet's witty tale of a therapist and best-selling author (Lindsay Crouse) who must confront her own obsessions when she meets an attractive cardsharp (Joe Mantegna) is as psychologically acute as it is full of twists and turns, a rich character study told with the cold calculation of a career criminal.
David Mamet's 1987 directorial debut was this mesmerizing study of control and seduction between two kinds of detached observers: a gambler who is also a con artist, and a psychotherapist who is also an emerging pop-psych guru in the book market. The latter (played by Lindsay Crouse) meets the former (Joe Mantegna) when one of her clients is driven to despair from his debts to the card shark. Mantegna's character agrees to drop the IOUs in exchange for Crouse's attention at the seedy House of Games in Seattle, a mecca for con men to talk shop and hustle unsuspecting customers. The shrink gets so caught up in the arcane rules and world view of her guide over subsequent days that she observes--with no false rapture--various stings in progress inside and outside the club. Mamet's story finally becomes a fascinating study of two people protecting and extending their respective cosmologies the way rival predators fight for the same piece of turf. The psychological challenge is compelling; so is the stylized dialogue, with its pattern of pauses and hiccups and humming meter. Mostly shooting at night, Mamet also gave Seattle a different look from previous filmmakers, turning its familiar puddles into concentrations of liquid neon and poisonous noir. --Tom Keogh
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