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Playwright David Mamet (USA, 1947), who had just written DePalma's Untouchables (1987),
debuted in cinema with
House of Games (1987), a stylish film noir that borrows the atmosphere
from 1940s thrillers but is uniquely Mamet-ian thanks to a twisted script.
A frigid, repressed, uptight, workaholic female psychiatrist
and author, Margaret, has a young (female) patient who
believes she is a murderess and a male patient who
is a suicidal compulsive gambler. The analysis leads her to a pool-room where
she meets Mike, the ultimate con-artist, who almost doublecrosses her into
paying a fake debt at cards after his partner threatens to kill him with a
fake gun. She is so fascinated that she decides to study
the con-man for a future book. Mike accepts to show her all sorts of tricks
on how to confound people. His power is to understand what others feel.
By the same token, he can read her mind. He soon starts psychoanalyzing her
secret desires and reveals to her that she wants to be possessed and transformed
into someone else.
She lets him take her on a trip of treachery and lust.
After a night of sex in somebody else's hotel room, she begs him to witness
his next scam.
One of his partners leaves a briefcase full of money in front of a nerd,
then slowly Mike makes him offer to pay money of his own for the right to
keep the briefcase, then Margaret finds out he's a cop, then they try to escape
and she accidentally kills him, then Mike asks her to steal a car, then
they forget the briefcase, which contains money borrowed from the mob,
and then she volunteers to pay back the money. But then she finds out that
they cheated her of the money.
She plans her own revenge. Meets Mike pretending it's an accident and that
she's been followed by the police and that she has all her money and is ready
to elope with him. He figures out she's bluffing. She pulls out a revolver
and asks him to ber her. She wants to avenge her humiliation.
He refuses to beg her and she kills him.
Later, at a formal lunch, she steals a lighter.
By the end of the movie, the spectator realizes that this movie about con-men
is a scam itself. The protagonist is not what she looked like, her identity
has proven to be something else.
The dark, urban settings complement her hollow life.
Mamet's script is a fantastic merry-go-round of tricks.
The trick of all tricks is that all tricks depends on her voyeurism: all of
Mike's scams start from the assumption that she will want to see and act.
Things Change (1988)
Homicide (1991) is a political thriller in which a
Jewish police detective ends up joining the underground to fight
a neo-Nazist conspiracy. The movie is only apparently a crime story,
it is truly a psychological melodrama.
The FBI enters a building and turns it into hell, but the man they were after
Detective Bobby and his partner detective Tim volunteer to find and arrest that
public enemy, who killed a cop.
Bobby has a violent argument with an African-American superior that almost
turns into a racial fight.
Bobby is a good cop, respected by the colleages as a "hostage negotiator" who
can talk to criminals.
A criminal, whom Bobby has helped, hits Bobby and takes his gun (he's only
trying to commit suicide), but is soon stopped by the other officers.
Bobby and his partner stumble into the scene of a murder and stop to help the
inexpert officers who are on the scene.
The victim was an elderly Jewish shopkeeper. Her shop is located
in a black neighborhood.
Bobby has to give the news to the son, a doctor, and the young and attractive
grand-daughter of the victim, who
behave like Jews who have been persecuted for centuries and see this as just
one more instance of anti-Jewish hatred.
Bobby is assigned the case, against his will (he would rather pursue the other
case with Tim).
Bobby is a Jew, but when his boss tells him these are "his people", he object:
he has been trying to erase his Jewish identity.
Bobby is using his skills as a "hostage negotiator" to convince the mom of the cop-killer, but
is interrupted by a new element in the "candy store" case: the Jewish doctor
called the police because his wife saw a man on the roof and heart a shot.
Bobby searched the roof and does see a man running away, but can't find enough
evidence to justify their fears. Except maybe a piece of paper with the word
In the end, it is not clear whether there was a conspiracy
or not, whether he wanted to believe in it and created it, whether the Jewish
family wanted to believe in it and created it, whether they misled him
intentionally or unintentionally, or whether he was really after something
Bobby wants nothing to do with these Jews, whom he thinks are simply paranoid and annoyingly spoiled. But the doctor asked the police to assign him to their
protection, because at least Bobby is Jewish and maybe he will care.
The first sign that he cares is when he asks about the grandmother.
The victim was a stubborn old lady, who had grown up in Palestine, had been
a gun runner during the war and now
insisted in running a candy store in the black ghetto where she had raised
her children even if she didn't need the money anymore.
The mother of the cop-killer has decided to cooperate and he is asked to
be the one who will capture him. But now he is absorbed by the "candy store"
case and is beginnig to believe in the conspiracy.
He finds out that Grofaz was another name for Hitler and then, in a library,
he finds a clou, a street address that a Jewish librarian wants to hide from him.
At that address, he meets the members of a secret Jewish militia, who are
busy fighting the neo-Nazis. He tells them he wants to find out who killed the
woman, but he seems to be at least as interested in learning more about Jews.
The militiamen want the original document with the list of people who worked
with the woman, because that can implicate others and jeopardize more lives.
Bobby wants to be loyal to the police rules he has to uphold but also to
the Jews who ask for his help.
They kick him out of their hideout. Bobby begs a Jewish woman to let him help.
She is investigating the shop where some anti-Jewish flyers have been printed.
The Jews suspect the owner of that shop to be involved in the murder.
That night, Bobby breaks into the shop, finds Nazist uniforms and posters,
and blows up the place with a bomb.
His police job is becoming a marginal habit, his lost Jewish identity is
becoming an obsession.
Bobby can't help feeling sympathy for those honest, even heroic people and
can't help feeling guilty that all his life he has been a renegade for his
The Jews ask him again for the list. He resists again, but this time they have
pictures of him entering the store that blew up and can blackmail him.
He missed the appointment with the cop-killer. By the time he gets there,
the police have surrounded the building and are shooting at the man, and
several officers are dead.
The man's mother is taken away and looks at him with a scornful look: she
trusted Bobby to arrest his son peacefully, he betrayed her trust.
Tim also get killed and Bobby reacts with anger. He chases the cop-killer
looking for revenge, but is wounded and is only revenge is to tell the
cop-killer that his own mother helped trap him before a police officer
shoots him dead. The cop-killer dies asking god for help.
In the meantime, the "candy store" case has been solved: his colleagues have
arrested the murderer.
Bobby learns that "Grofaz" is simply some food for pigeons.
He has been manipulated by the Jews to help frame that man.
And while letting them manipulate him, he caused the death of his partner.
Bobby has no evidence that there really was an anti-Jewish conspiracy
(it could all have been a setup to blackmail him into helping them,
including the nazi store), but Bobby now has evidence that there was a
Jewish conspiracy against him.
Mamet reaches the most pessimistic conclusion: not only Bobby has lost his
identity, not only this has left him without "any" identity, but reality,
that could help him recover it, is so ambigous that ultimately he feels
powerless and pointless.
American Buffalo (1996) was directed by Michael Corrente.
Don, owner of an antique shop, tells his buddy Teach that he is planning to
rob a rich customer of his coin collection (mainly as a revenge for the
fact that this customer bought a coin from him for a ridiculous price),
and Don's teenage protege' Bobby is going to be the one who physically
breaks into the house. Teach talks Don into joining the
action, and then they start arguing about the details and specifically about
the kid. The entire action takes place in Don's store.
The night that they are supposed to act, Bobby shows up with an excuse.
Teach senses that he is lying and suspects doublecrossing. Teach goes
ballistic and hits the kid with the telephone. Don defends the kid, and
Teach starts demolishing his store. The kid confesses that he did lie,
although it's a much less serious lie than Teach imagined: he was just
ashamed to admit he failed. Don and Teach, defeated by life one more time,
take him to the hospital.
Oleanna (1994) is the adaptation of his play "Oleanna" (1992).
The Spanish Prisoner (1997) reproduce fedelmente
l'atmosfera e le trame dei thriller degli anni '50.
Ai Caraibi si svolge la negoziazione per un deal finanziario fra gli
inventori di un sistema segreto, escogitato dal matematico Joe, che e` assistito
dalla segretaria Susan, di lui vanamente innamorata. Ai Caraibi incontrano i
finanzieri, preoccupati della concorrenza, una donna dell'FBI e una principessa
scortata da un amico e guardia del corpo che si preoccupa di distruggere la foto
presa da Joe di lei. La stessa "guardia del corpo" da` a Joe un pacchetto da
portare alla sorella. Sull'aereo Joe apre il pacchetto insospettito, ma e`
davvero soltanto un libro. Avendolo danneggiato, va a comprarne un'altra copia.
Il capo di Joe, Kline, e` vago sul suo compenso e Joe non si sente tranquillo.
Il ricco amico della principessa (Jimmy) e` offeso dal fatto che lui non abbia
portato il libro di persona alla sorella, ma l'abbia fatto recapitare.
La segretaria continua a dargli la caccia, con crescente intraprendenza.
Jimmy lo tratta da amico e lo spinge a consultare un avvocato per ottenere i
diritti dell'invenzione. La sorella e` sempre malata, e Joe le manda un regalo,
ma scopre che non esiste. Adesso sospetta che Jimmy sia una spia della
concorrenza e chiama la donna dell'FBI. Lei gli da` un appuntamento e gli spiega
che Jimmy e` ricercato dalla polizia e che lui deve aiutarli a incastrarlo.
Jimmy si fida e segue le istruzioni, ma invece l'intera squadra dell'FBI
si dilegua con la sua formula. Joe chiama la polizia e la polizia inizia le
indagini, ma Jimmy lo ha incastrato per far sembrare che e` stato lui a rubare
la formula. Il boss lo supplica di restituire il maltolto. Va a trovare l'amico
George che forse lo puo` aiutare ma lo trova morto pugnalato
e la polizia sta arrivando,
chiamata da qualcuno per farlo sorprendere in flagrante. Joe fugge e si rifugia
da Susan, che non vede l'ora di aiutarlo. Lo ospita o lo aiuta a prendere un
aereo per l'isola dei Caraibi, dove spera di ritrovare il filo della
matassa. Ma in realta` anche lei e` parte del complotto e lui si salva per caso:
Susan gli messo una pistola nella borsetta della macchina fotografica, ma
Joe si ricorda del libro che Jimmy gli diede, sul quale ci sono ancora le
sue impronte digitali e lascia l'aeroporto (intanto il metal detector ha
individuato la pistola e la polizia fa scattare l'allarme ma lui non se ne
Joe ritrova Susan all'uscita dall'aeroporto e lei lo porta al molo per
prendere una barca, ma commette l'errore di dargli il biglietto che ha
comprato per il Venezuela: capisce che lei e` in combutta con Jimmy e che quel
biglietto serve a emigrare in un paese che non ha estradizione con gli USA.
Ma e` troppo tardi: Jimmy e` sulla stessa barca e lui, Joe, e` condannato.
La polizia pensera` che si sia trattato di un suicidio.
Sulla barca ci sono soltanto due innocui turisti giapponesi, ma uno dei due
si rivela essere un poliziotto e bisbiglia a Joe di far confessare a Jimmy
dove ha nascosto la formula (Jimmy l'ha venduta in Svizzera).
Jimmy sta per finirlo quando la turista giapponese tira fuori un'arma
e colpisce Jimmy con una freccia tranquillizzante. Entrambi i turisti
giapponesi erano agenti in incognito. Hanno seguito le peripezie di Joe
dall'inizio, ben sapendo che era stato proprio il suo capo a combinare tutto.
La polizia gli aveva sempre creduto ma avevano bisogno di prove.
Winslow Boy (1999), adapted from the play by Terence Rattigan, and set
in England at the beginning of the century, is an oddity in Mamet's career,
a period piece steeped in Dickens-ian melodrama.
A 14-year old cadet, Ronnie Winslow, is expelled from a glorious naval college.
Accused of theft, he professes his innocence. His noble and proud father is
determined to clear his name, no matter what.
The old man spends all his time and most of his money pursuing his mission,
to the point of withdrawing Ronnie's older brother Dickie from Oxford and
of ruining the matrimonial prospects of Ronnie's older sister and suffragette
Catherine (and of dismissing servants and selling properties)
when the family's finances begin to dwindle.
A famous lawyer is hired, who, after rudely provoking the child, comes to
believe in his innocence. The lawyer carries out an epic fight at the highest
political level and soon the whole country is gossiping about it.
The other children are ready to sacrifice for the cause, but the mother's will
is beginning to falter, as she realizes the price to pay for justice is simply
The focus shifts to Catherine, who is getting old and has only one (not very
flattering) alternative to spinsterdom. Devoted to her feminist cause, she
spars with the lawyer (way too conservative for her radical views) whom she
suspects movitivated only by personal ambition and greed.
She is proven wrong: the lawyer continues to defend the case even at a very high
personal price, and eventually wins. It is a triumph and the father is
overwhelmed with joy. Catherine apologizes to the lawyer. They almost fall in
love, but they cannot fill the ideological gap that separates them.
Catastrophe (2000) is an adaptation of a Samuel Beckett play.
Heist (2001) was his biggest commercial success.
State and Main (2000)
Redbelt (2008) is a martial arts movie.