Tuesday, 20 August 2013

The Spanish Prisoner (1997)

Written and directed by the great David Mamet, this is a typically twisty and turny thriller from the man, with his usual cool dialogue permeating every scene.

Campbell Scott plays Joe, a man who has managed to create a very important, though never revealed, process that will allow the company he works for to make lots and lots of money. He is the man of the moment, but that moment seems all too fleeting. When he comes into contact with an interesting stranger (Steve Martin) who happily passes along some of his wisdom, Joe realises that he's maybe selling himself a bit short. With that realisation comes an extra helping of mistrust and paranoia. Who can Joe trust and what will other interested parties do to get their hands on his mysterious, valuable process.

Although there are many times when this feels as stagey as so many other Mamet movies (not the worst crime in the world), there are also plenty of moments that open up the world that the characters are inhabiting. The events may be happening to Joe, but the movie feels like things are being manipulated on a grand, at times even global, scale.

As well as Scott and Martin, who both do a great job, the film features some solid performances from Rebecca Pidgeon, Ben Gazzara, Ricky Jay and Felicity Huffman (with a small, but enjoyable, cameo from Ed O'Neill). Viewers may be put off by the rhythm and delivery of the dialogue, but it's an interesting choice to ensure that every line is given its due. There are no ramblings here, no words that don't seem carefully planned.

Fans of Mamet will need no further persuasion to see yet another fine example of his work. This is up there with the best that he can produce, even if it doesn't quite reach the heights of House Of Games or Glengarry Glen Ross, and deserves to find an appreciative audience for a long time to come.




  1. I found this gem on VHS back in the day, a great little Movie and a brilliant turn by Martin.

    1. Yeah, I'd been hearing about it for years but never got around to it until now, shame on me.