Tuesday, December 8, 2009

House of Games (1987) and Devil in a Blue Dress (1995)

House of Games is David Mamet’s directorial debut. The story follows psychiatrist Maggie Ford (Linsday Crouse) as she is led by a smooth-talking grafter (Joe Mantegna) into the shadowy but compelling world of stings, scams, and con men. Mantegna is charming as con man Mike. Mike Nussbaum is good as elder con man Joey. And there are smaller roles for Mamet staple Ricky Jay and veteran character actor JT Walsh. Acting-wise, the weak link is Crouse, which is unfortunate considering she’s in just about every scene.

The various cons pulled during the flick are fun, but I saw the big twist coming 20 minutes away (which is saying something considering the movie is 102 minutes long). The ending was a bit unsatisfying. For fans of Mamet or the heist genre, it’s a good time. Otherwise, I can’t really recommend it.

Devil in a Blue Dress is a mid-90’s noir based on the Walter Mosley novel of the same name. Denzel Washington stars as plant worker turned private eye Easy Rawlins. Rawlins is hired by DeWitt Albright (Tom Sizemore) to find Daphne Monet (Jennifer Beals), the missing fiancée of a mayoral candidate. Rawlins quickly finds himself pulled into a milieu of murder, corruption, and racism. One of the standouts in the cast is Don Cheadle as Easy’s friend Mouse.

One of the big questions I had was about Sizemore’s character. In the beginning, he’s very friendly with Rawlins and the other black characters. He goes so far as to threaten to kill someone in the verge of hurting Rawlins. But after Easy gives Albright some bad intel on the whereabouts of Daphne Monet, Albright hurls violence and racial epithets at him as easily as other characters do. Was Albright just playing early on? Or is he acting out in front of other white characters so they don’t look down on him for being friendly with the black characters?

While not perfect, Devil is a good flick. Recommended for fans of Denzel, Mosley, and modern noirs.

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