Arts & Events

Moving Pictures: Mamet's "House of Games"

By Justin DeFreitas
Friday October 26, 2007

House of Games, David Mamet's 1987 directorial debut, was and still is like no other film.  


Mamet had already established himself as a successful writer for both stage and screen, receiving Oscar nominations for a couple of screenplays and Tony nominations for his plays. His 1984 play Glengarry Glen Ross won the Pulitzer Prize. 


When it came time for Glengarry to adorn the silver screen, Mamet had to break the news to his long-time collaborator, actor Joe Mantegna, that he was going to replaced in the lead role by Al Pacino for the film version. As Mantegna recounts in an interview in Criterion's new DVD release of House of Games, Mamet walked into the actor's backstage dressing room after a performance, broke the bad news, and immediately dropped two screenplays on the table, and said "But I won't make these without you."  


The two screenplays were House of Games and Things Change, films that would firmly establish Mamet as a film director and Mantegna as a solid screen actor. 


Mamet is known for is precisely mannered, crisply delivered dialogue. It is his hallmark, a unique approach that brings the enunciation and stylization of the stage to the screen, but without the requisite staginess that hinders the efforts of so many lesser talents. Mamet instills his words with a heightened dramatic tension, much in the way that the rapid-fire cadences of the Warner Bros. gangster films and noirs of the 1930 and '40s brought a dramatic hyper-realism to their melodramatic plots. 


Like those earlier films, House of Games is full of deep shadows and drifting smoke that obscure motivations; of steam rising from sewers like forbidden thoughts rising furtively to the surface; of backroom dealings and shifting alliances that remake the world as a dangerous game of intrigue and deceit. 


Twenty years later, the film still packs a punch. Mantegna's smooth, street-wise hustler Mike is captivating as he dismantles the pretensions of respectability that shackle Lindsay Crouse's Margaret to an unsatisfying bourgeois life. The labyrinth of lust and greed, of cons and revelations, is still mesmerizing even after multiple viewings. 


Extra features on the new release include current interviews with Crouse and Mantegna, the two actors reflecting on the film and their work with Mamet; a commentary track by Mamet and Ricky Jay, a con artist turned actor who served as a consultant on the film; an essay by film critic Kent Jones; and a short documentary, made at the time of filming, featuring interviews with Mamet, information on the genesis of the film, and rehearsal sessions in which Mamet walks his principal players through their characters' motivations. 





Written and directed by David Mamet. Starring Joe Mantegna and Lindsay Crouse.  

102 minutes. $39.95.