House of Games is a very small film, but Mamet and cinematographer Juan Ruiz Anchía manage to make it appear a lot bigger. When there’s no one in a shot, in a public place, except a principal, Mamet makes it seem stylistic instead of budgetary. It’s only during the final fifteen minutes, when there’s a near empty airport—sure, it’s the middle of the night, but it’s still too empty—does it become clear the film’s just economical and it’s not style.
The film, about a psychiatrist who finds herself drawn to some lowlifes, is also about deception. It all works out in that sense. Still, once Mamet fully unveils House of Games, the whole thing collapses. He writes himself into a hole and can’t get out—possibly because it’s such a predictable plot. There are no surprises.
There’s a lot of excellent acting. Lindsay Crouse, as the psychiatrist, is great for most of the film (she’s the one who the ending fails). Joe Mantegna is the main lowlife she’s interested in and he’s excellent. Mike Nussbaum and Ricky Jay are also excellent. J.T. Walsh isn’t bad, he’s just doing a schtick and the others aren’t.
Mamet’s insistence the plot be the most compelling aspect constrains House of Games. He’s trying to be clever and cute but there’s no emotional connection. Even when she’s good, Crouse cannot connect on that level.
Even the dynamic dialogue fades away. Eventually it becomes so predictable it’s boring. While technically excellent, Games’s rather pointless.
Directed by David Mamet; screenplay by Mamet, based on a story by Jonathan Katz and Mamet; director of photography, Juan Ruiz Anchía; edited by Trudy Ship; music by Alaric Jans; production designer, Michael Merritt; produced by Michael Hausman; released by Orion Pictures.
Starring Lindsay Crouse (Margaret Ford), Joe Mantegna (Mike), Ricky Jay (George), Mike Nussbaum (Joey), Lilia Skala (Dr. Maria Littauer), William H. Macy (Sgt. Moran) and J.T. Walsh (The Businessman).