David Mamet's "House of Games," is another of that director's giant flip jobs. I've been working my way through the Mamet catalogue, and one can't help but feel the director sees the world itself as a giant con. Well, that's perhaps a bit simplistic, but Mamet does cling, in movie after movie, to some core principles. One of these is that you must trust no one. In "Spartan," "The Spanish Prisoner," and "House of Games," this very line is uttered, usually by a villain to an innocent. This sounds like a negative credo, but it really isn't. First, consider who's issuing the warning: the villain. Will the innocent learn from experience? And will the learning result in corruption? (Important questions for Mamet.) Second, trusting yourself and knowing yourself (weaknesses included) in a dangerous world is advisable, necessary, in order to survive . I have to believe Mamet is a big reader of Joseph Conrad.
The story behind "House of Games," involves Lindsay Crouse as Margaret Ford, a doctor and popular author. Her "big book" is titled "Driven," about compulsive and addictive personalities. It doesn't take long to figure out the book is about herself. So driven is Margaret that she is beginning to make Freudian slips in her conversations, slips that reveal dark corners of her own personality. She may be heading for a breakdown - and a teaching colleague warns her, tells her she must slow down. But "slowing down" comes as another writing project presents itself, seemingly accidently due to the dilemma of a patient , when Margaret is introduced to the world of the Con at a local bar and pool hall called "House of Games." This introduction comes at the hands of Mike (Joe Mantegna), a handsome and slick con man who is willing to provide a tour - though he does warn her: "Trust no one."
To reveal any more would be telling. Like all Mamet films, the dialogue is essential. I don't think I've ever seen a director make such interesting use of dialogue. On one level the dialogue in all of Mamet's films (that I've seen so far) is seemingly stilted. But it works! Why? I can only attribute this to Mamet's precision as a director. What seems stilted, comes across instead as elevated speech - as in Shakespeare. Mamet is a dramatic poet who no doubt has Shakespeare's great maxim engraved upon his mind, and present in the framing of each scene: "Suit the action to the word, and the word to the action." (Good actors must love working with this guy.) So pay attention, there's no fat in a Mamet film, and always plenty to ponder. "House of Games" is no different. See it.