Con Artists Ply Their Trade in 20th Anniversary DVD Edition of Classic Whodunit
House of Games just might be the best multi-layered mystery ever made. Originally released in 1987, this intriguing whodunit marked the directorial debut of Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright David Mamet (for Glengarry Glen Ross), who had already made quite a name for himself in theater before turning his attention to film.
Set in Seattle, the movie stars Joe Mantegna as Mike, the brains behind an elaborate scheme to fleece Dr. Margaret Ford (Lindsay Crouse) of a small fortune. Ford, a public intellectual, is a famous psychiatrist with a self help book entitled “Driven” currently sitting atop the best seller list.
She becomes ensnared in the trap of his gang of con men when she decides to help Billy (Steven Goldstein), a patient who informs her during a session that his life is being threatened by mobsters he owes money to. Margaret takes a personal interest in the compulsive gambler’s predicament feeling he shouldn’t die over a few thousand dollars.
So, she makes her way to a bar on the seedy side of town to confront Mike. However, when she finds him in the midst of a high-stakes poker game, he takes her aside and offers to forgive Billy’s debt provided she first poses as his girlfriend to help him win a big pot by cheating.
Her adrenaline flowing, she agrees, obviously intrigued by the idea of participating in a scam. But what Margaret doesn’t know is that everyone there is in on it, and that, in fact, she’s the only person sitting around the card table being duped.
This cleverly-concealed trick is only the first of many mind-bending twists which ensue, as the well-meaning doctor gradually ends up hopelessly ensnared with a criminal element intent on taking her for all she’s worth. Since it would be unfair to spoil even a moment more of this perfectly-plotted masterpiece, all you need to know is that it landed on this critic’s Best Movies of the Millennium List in 2000.
Excellent (4 stars)
Rated R for profanity, sexuality and violence.
Running time: 102 minutes
Studio: The Criterion Collection
DVD Extras: Commentary by the director and by co-star Ricky Jay, new interviews with Lindsay Crouse and Joe Mantegna, a documentary shot on location during production, an essay by critic Kent Jones, excerpts from the director’s introduction to the published screenplay, storyboard detail and a theatrical trailer.