Spanish Prisoner,The/B+,A-
Columbia-Tristar/1998/110m/ANA,WS 1.85,FS 1.33
     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.
spanishprisoner.JPG (9729 bytes)

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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