The Functional Hermit

musings from a homebody

Posts Tagged ‘David Mamet

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

Hermit Cinema: Spartan

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Val Kilmer has always been something of an enigma to me. Obviously talented, he’s an actor rumored to have driven some of his directors insane. David Mamet has also been something of a riddle in my mind. Again, obviously intelligent and talented – the author of the line, “Coffee is for closers,” perhaps one of the greatest single lines ever – Mamet sometimes come across as angry and bitter as that famed dialogue from Glengarry Glen Ross. So here in this one DVD, I scored a personal bonanza of Hermit movie mystique.

Score is a good way to put it. This movie was a great surprise. Taut. Suspenseful. Unpredictable.

The movie’s title comes from ancient times, when Spartan king Leonidas (this movie was made well before 300 made Spartan warrior culture fashionable) would answer a neighboring state’s request for military assistance by sending a single Spartan soldier.

The movie opens during a selection exercise for the Army’s elite Delta Force. Bobby Scott (Val Kilmer), or rather the man who uses the name Bobby Scott in the world of covert ops, is an operative and training cadre member who commands a lot of respect. Two soldiers who prove themselves capable during the exercise, Sgt. Jacqueline Black (Tia Texada) and Curtis (Derek Luke), make sure Scott understands that they’d love nothing more than to work with him on future operations.

On his way out of the training compound, Scott is summoned for a mission. The President’s daughter (Kristen Bell) has gone missing. There’s a chance she’s been shipped off into the human trafficking pipeline. (This movie came out well before Taken which has a similar premise.) The investigation is overseen by Burch (Ed O’Neill) and his 2nd in command Stoddard (William H. Macy).

Bobby Scott is the kind of super-capable covert agent authorized and willing to kill, maim and torture in order to accomplish his objective. He’s a shooter, not a planner, and he appreciates the clarity that comes with the role. Burch and Stoddard appreciate having a man like Scott on their team. Assisted by new Unit member Curtis, Scott tracks the girl’s movements and closes in on her location.

Not to give away anything that could spoil future enjoyment of this movie for others, I will say that from here everything gets turned upside down. It was a great ride and I sure enjoyed it. There are plot twists, cover ups and betrayals. The dialogue is sharp and gritty, just like you’d expect from Mamet. The melancholy musical score seems a perfect accompaniment to the unfolding action.

What really stuck out to me about this movie was how well controlled everything felt. Mamet shows a master’s hand controlling the actors and the tempo of the story. This is one of those rare movies that felt to be a perfect length. There was no fat anywhere and this movie clocks in at a healthy chunk beyond ninety minutes.

I can’t wait to watch this movie again. I give this movie an A-minus.

Written by the bee dub

June 5, 2010 at 6:53 pm

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