The Spanish Prisoner

Year: 1997
Production Co: Jasmine Productions
Director: David Mamet
Producer: Jean Doumanian
Writer: David Mamet
Cast: Campbell Scott, Steve Martin, Felicity Huffman, Rebecca Pidgeon

To date I've only seen Steve Martin in two dramatic roles, and I'm genuinely thrilled when he does them. Although he hasn't the force of personality of his better comic roles, there's something about him that perfectly suits him to a dramatic environment. I've always thought he'd play a brilliant sadistic mob boss.

Campbell Scott is Joe, a businessman sitting on a secret business procedure that's about to take the industry by storm, but he can't get due recognition for his work. After meeting the rich and slightly enigmatic stranger Jimmy (Martin) on the beach during a business trip to hammer out the details, the two strike up an unlikely friendship in which the latter keeps promising Joe he'll meet Jimmy's sister, who never seems to materialise.

When things go increasingly pear shaped at work, Jimmy suggests Joe give him the secret project to have his lawyer check it over. Suspecting a con, Joe goes behind Jimmy's back to the other woman he met on the island who said she was from the FBI and was watching Jimmy. They set up a sting to nab Jimmy, but things go even worse when Joe learns not only that the team weren't really from the FBI, but that they've lifted the paperwork from right under his nose.

Together with the clerical worker at work who has a fancy for Joe and the partner who ends up dead, deception is piled onto betrayal and run through with lies.

It seems Mamet wanted to make a thriller set in the real world but beset with a literary atmosphere, but the device doesn't altogether work. The characters are all way to talky and the film is self-consciously proud of its way with words. There's nothing wrong with intelligent people who can articulate what they mean or even using florid language once in a while, but having modern businesspeople speak so colourfully just jars a little too much.

It is however an effective guessing game as you try to work out what's happening along with the hapless hero, and for that reason could almost be called Mamet's Hitchcock.

And yes, that is the same Jean Doumanian that used to produce all Woody Allen's films before the pair's massive falling out.

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