Thursday, September 20, 2012

80s neo-noir: House of Games

House of Games movie poster

There seems to be a not-too-uncommon stereotype about psychiatrists and psychologists, which is that more often than not, they turn out to have psychological issues of their own. Or at least that’s what some people believe. And this notion is explored in David Mamet’s 1987 movie House of Games.

Lindsay Crouse plays a psychiatrist (and author of a best-selling book) whose sessions with a compulsive-gambler patient inspire her to conduct research by interacting with some of his gambling associates, in an attempt to help him out. Through her own curiosity, she winds up getting herself drawn into a risky underground world of professional con artists. Her striking sense of adventure seems contrary to her otherwise stoic demeanor. And, as the movie progresses, it becomes apparent that she (despite being a psychiatrist) has some unresolved issues of her own. Certain aspects of her personality begin to unfold as she continues to venture with the grifters. Though, prior to her involvement with them, she had already exhibited a particular peculiarity of making occasional-but-noticeable Freudian slips -- something which later plays a significant role during a pivotal scene in the movie. It’s also worthy of note that she doesn't ever reveal her name to any of the grifters until that very scene. The movie begs two questions: What will result from her interactions with the grifters? And will it lead her to learn more about con-artistry or to learn more about her own self?

House of GamesHouse of Games

During the early and mid 80s, Crouse put in some impressive performances in movies such as Prince of the City, The Verdict, and Places in the Heart (for which she received an Academy Award nomination as Best Supporting Actress). I happen to love the movie Places in the Heart, and I will write a blog entry about it hopefully sometime soon. Despite Crouse’s accomplishments back then, however, she now seems to have fallen off the radar.

House of GamesHouse of Games

The movie also stars Joe Mantegna, JT Walsh, Meshach Taylor, as well as William H. Macy in a small role. In addition, this was the directorial debut for Mamet who was previously a playwright and a screenwriter. For me, the best aspect of the movie is that it has an overall neo-noir feel to it. In particular, some viewers have suggested that this movie’s dialogue (and the delivery of that dialogue) is a sort of homage to film noir of the 40s and 50s. Interestingly, this movie was Roger Ebert’s choice for best movie of 1987.

Here’s the trailer:

Roger Ebert picks House of Games as the best movie of 1987 @6:25

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