“House of Games” is a hidden gem. Written and directed by David Mamet, this low-budget film was released in 1987 to positive reviews, but only managed to earn about $2.6 million at the box office.
The film is a neo-noir thriller about a prominent psychiatrist and author (Lindsay Crouse) who becomes involved with a group of con artists led by a shadowy figure named Mike (Joe Mantegna). The film is loaded with twists and turns, and saying anything more about the plot would spoil the film. Crouse and Joe Mantegna are brilliant in the lead roles, and the cast is filled with talented character actors including Mike Nussbaum, J.T. Walsh, Ricky Jay and William H. Macy. Mantegna was born to play this role. His performance seems so effortless. Meanwhile, the film wouldn’t work without Crouse’s impressive performance.
The neo-noir genre in film is a contemporary revival of the film noir genre, which was popular in Hollywood during the 1940s and 1950s. Film noir is characterized by its dark, moody, and often cynical tone, as well as its focus on crime, corruption, and the seedy underbelly of society.
Neo-noir films, on the other hand, are typically made in a more modern era and reflect the social and cultural changes that have occurred since the original film noir period. Neo-noir films often feature similar themes and motifs as traditional film noir, but they may incorporate new elements such as more complex characterizations, non-linear narratives, and new visual and stylistic techniques.
Some common elements of neo-noir films include morally ambiguous characters, femme fatales, urban decay, and a general sense of disillusionment and despair. Neo-noir films often feature complex and convoluted plotlines, as well as an emphasis on mood and atmosphere over traditional plot development.
Some notable examples of neo-noir films include “Chinatown,” “Blade Runner,” “L.A. Confidential,” “The Usual Suspects,” and “Memento.”
This genre suits Mamet well. He’s best known for his plays “Glengarry Glen Ross,” “American Buffalo,” and “Speed-the-Plow,” winning the Pulitzer Prize for Drama for “Glengarry Glen Ross” in 1984. Mamet is known for his distinctive writing style, which often features spare, rhythmic dialogue. This style is on full display in “House of Games,” his directorial debut. It can be awkward at times, particularly in some of the early scenes of the film, but overall it’s very effective.
Many critics praised the film’s intricate plot, which features numerous twists and turns, and Mamet’s skillful direction. Roger Ebert gave the film four stars and called it his favorite film from Mamet. In his original review, Ebert opens with the following: “This movie is awake. I have seen so many films that were sleepwalking through the debris of old plots and second-hand ideas that it was a constant pleasure to watch ‘House of Games,’ a movie about con men that succeeds not only in conning the audience, but also in creating a series of characters who seem imprisoned by the need to con, or be conned.”
The film is fantastic, and I recommend it to anyone who enjoys the film noir or neo-noir genres. It also holds up well after all these years.
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