The Spanish Prisoner

****

Reviewed by: Angus Wolfe Murray

Movies as puzzles are rare and intricate (viz The Usual Suspects). This one carries you through twisted enigmas, where certainty no longer comes with a guarantee, at least not for Joe Ross (Campbell Scott), mathematician, creator of a unique formula that will make men rich, especially his boss. Joe is clever, but naive. He has spent too long in the company of algebra.

The Process is Joe's invention. It will change the balance of payments of a nation, as well as create unimaginable wealth for the company that owns it. Naturally, predators are circling, cunning, charming people, who appear likeable, even lovable, at first - men like Jimmy Dell (Steve Martin), who is rich, friendly and concerned for Joe's welfare. Of course, you don't know he's rich, friendly, or concerned. And you can't warn Joe, although Susan (Rebecca Pidgeon), the new secretary at the office, does try, because she's in the story and you're not, at least you didn't begin there, you began outside, in the street, outside the cinema, and now you're in the story, courtesy of David Mamet, magician, wordsmith, and you don't know who to trust. Confused yet?

This is essentially a confidence trick, a series of inexplicable occurences that make no sense in a sensible world, a bit like The Game - you are at the mercy of strangeness. Also, it is a thriller, a mystery, a chase, almost a romance, always a fascination. Scott has the bemused look of a deer in headlights. Martin is as funny as cold steel. Pidgeon plays infatuation like a clockwork toy.

Mamet is as good as he was at the beginning, with House Of Games. The plot runs away with itself by the end, as plots tend to do when they're not tied down. You'll notice the inconsistences later, but at the time, the puzzle's in the pleasure.

Reviewed on: 19 Jan 2001
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The Spanish Prisoner packshot
The creator of a formula that will make men rich is tempted to betray his firm.
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Director: David Mamet

Writer: David Mamet

Starring: Campbell Scott, Steve Martin, Rebecca Pidgeon, Ben Gazzara, Ricky Jay, Felicity Huffman, Richard L. Friedman, Jerry Graff, G. Roy Levin, Hilary Hinckle, David Pittu

Year: 1997

Runtime: 110 minutes

BBFC: PG - Parental Guidance

Country: US

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If you like this, try:

The Game
Heist