This is the latest and probably best
effort from writer/director David Mamet yet. Mametís directing debut was the delicious and
malicious con concoction, House of Games. In The Spanish Prisoner, Mametís
complex storytelling couples with terse dialogue in a gleeful exercise in the art of the con. Along
the way, Mamet manages to throws some jabs at questionable business practices and greed. But
foremost is the layered con, setting it up step by step, just as he sets up the audience for
surprise after surprise. Often Mametís very clever imagination gets the best of him. The
Spanish Prisoner survives despite some difficult to explain coincidences and some miraculous
maneuvering by various players in the game.
All of the avarice revolves around a mysterious formula developed by Joe
Ross, an employee of the company. At a Caribbean Island meeting of the financial backers of
"the formula," we are introduced to all the players in the game. Ross is befriended by
the mysterious high flyer Jimmy Dell and ditzy company secretary Susan Ricci attaches ingratiates
herself to Ross. In New York, the Caribbean connections peel for Ross like the layers of an onion.
Before the details of the con are revealed, Ross will find himself being played with at the
merry-go-round in Central Park, Bostonís Logan Airport, various other New York City locales.
Joe Ross is caught on a merry-go-round.©Columbia-Tristar
The actors are very well cast. Campbell
Scott walks the swinging tightrope as Joe Ross, never quite sure whatís going or who to trust.
Steve Martin as Jimmy Dell works magic with the Mamet dialogue using the language to keep Joe Ross
off kilter. Rebecca Pidgeon (Mrs. David Mamet) plays Susan Ricci with wide-eyed innocence skewed by
a pronounced diabolic edge. Ben Gazarra has some nice moments as Corporation CEO Klein The clipped
patterns of dialogue may make the uninitiated Mametians ill at ease. Personally, I like more fluid
delivery of those short, terse sentences than the director permits his actors in The Spanish
Prisoner. But the director carries out the writerís style with a sense of purpose.
The Spanish Prisoner is an elegant production. Carter Burwellís
(Fargo) sly, slightly playful score, with a scent of the Orient in its rhythms, goes a long
way to embellishing The Spanish Prisoner with mystery. The photography by Gabriel Beristain
captures the locales in the same breezy way that Burwellís music marries to the spirit of the
film. And director Mamet moves the action quickly, efficiently, and with evident delight.
The Spanish Prisoner is the kind of film that grows on you. The
more familiar you become with the scam, the more carefully you can appreciate the details of the
set-up. The holes donít go away, but they become less important as shares the delight of author
Mametís devious imagination.
In keeping suave nature of The Spanish Prisoner, the DVD is an
effortlessly elegant presentation. This is a very film-like disc with sharp images, colors that are
not overly saturated, and virtually no NTSC artifacts. The night scenes on the Island are very nice
indeed. Nice lighting balances, deep black with excellent detail. The Dolby Digital 2-channel adds
enough surround ambiance for a full home theater experience. The music sounds great and the
dialogue, the all-important dialogue, is very cleanly delivered. A minor note: chapter five is
incorrectly labeled Jimmy Bell.
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