The Functional Hermit

musings from a homebody

Posts Tagged ‘Ben Gazzara

Hermit Cinema: The Spanish Prisoner

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After watching the surprisingly good Spartan, I added David Mamet’s The Spanish Prisoner to my Netflix queue. I had read in more than a few places that it was a film with some good, unpredictable plot twists.

Now the problem with con movies is that while you watch, it’s nearly impossible not to be on constant lookout for the next crazy twist to reveal itself. Perhaps this movie suffered too much from that fate for me? Or maybe the film doesn’t fit together as perfectly as one might hope? Ultimately, I would argue that this movies suffers from one of the most common movie drawbacks: an inability to build adequate empathy for its lead character.

Joe Ross (Campbell Scott) is a contract employee and creator of ‘The Process’ – a proprietary invention that can be used to make a fortune. He is in the Caribbean with friend/coworker George Lang (Ricky Jay – the human acting equivalent to the cartoon character Droopy Dog) and new coworker Susan Ricci (Rebecca Pidgeon). It’s a big meeting where he’s pitching the use of ‘The Process’ to the head of the company, Mr. Klein (Ben Gazarra), and other members of the company’s board.

More than anything he wants to make sure he makes out well financially because his work is going to make the company boatloads of money. Much to Joe’s distress, every time he tries to bring up with subject with Mr. Klein he is brushed off with vague promises that everything will be made right in the end. He begins airing his concerns to Jimmy Dell (Steve Martin), a wealthy American on vacation with whom he strikes up a quick friendship. Jimmy comes across as serious, successful, connected and charming. (Big, red flag, anyone?)

Everyone returns back to New York and once there, Joe gets more and more worried that he’s going to get screwed out of any big payday. Jimmy offers to help arrange a meeting with a lawyer to gain some leverage. Susan begins flirting with Joe shamelessly, seeing that he is heading for much bigger things.

Of course, this is a con movie so nothing is what it seems. Soon Joe enlists the help of FBI agent Pat McCune (Felicity Huffman) because he realizes he cannot trust anybody. Joe is played time and time again, eventually ending up on the lam for crimes he did not commit.

The truth is revealed, of course. Joe learns who everyone really is. But by that point, I just didn’t care enough about him to worry that much. Joe’s character never gets fully developed, only played. That’s surprising to me in a Mamet movie.

This isn’t a terrible movie or anything. It was a bit long and ponderous for me and in the end, just didn’t feel all that remarkable. My high expectations may have doomed this movie but personally, I would guess that most of you would find it a tad underwhelming as well. This is a movie that just doesn’t quite live up to its potential.

I give The Spanish Prisoner a disappointed C-plus.

Written by the bee dub

October 13, 2010 at 4:18 pm

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