David Mamet’s directorial debut is House of Games, a classic neo noir from 1987. Mamet has made some amazing neo noir films through out his career and this first one definitely qualifies.
This film starts out with Margaret Ford, played by Lindsay Crouse(Mamet’s wife at the time). Ford is a psychiatrist and author who is fairly well-known from her book. We see this in the opening scene when she is approached by a stranger who turns out to be a fan that wants her book signed. We see Ford meet with a patient in prison and a friend and colleague at a restaurant. This shows how busy and driven she is. She then meets a patient in her office who has a gambling addiction. He states he owes a bookie $25,000 and if he doesn’t pay by tomorrow, they are going to kill him. Ford goes to meet the bookie named Mike at a pool hall called House of Games. She meets Mike played by Joe Mantegna who is charming and said her patient owes him $800, not $25,000. He offers to forgive the debt if she helps him in a poker game. She does and soon the games begin. Mike is a con man and Ford is fascinated by him and his crew. She decides she would like to follow them around and learn from them for a new book project.
The twists and turns continue in one entertaining scene after another. Mamet’s usual gang of actors make appearances throughout the film like Ricky Jay and William H. Macy.
This film was suppose to be a big budget film with bigger stars, but Mamet decided to direct himself and use his wife and friends as the actors instead. Given that, distributor Orion only released the film in 4 theaters and it basically went straight to video and a television release. Over the years it has found an audience and even received a Criterion DVD release. This film is worth your time if you are a fan of film in general. It is a unique experience where you feel your watching a live play rather than a film in some sense. The language and conversation between the characters is precise and unique. The plot seems to be a very tight con man story, until the very end where everything falls apart and feels very real.
Favorite Tidbit: This film has already been remade twice! One from Hong Kong and one from India. I have not seen either of these, but it would be interesting to compare all three.