The Spanish Prisoner

Dir: David Mamet
Star: Campbell Scott, Steve Martin, Rebecca Pidgeon, Ben Gazzara

There is a terrible beauty in watching someone else's life fall apart, and much of the joy here is this kind of schadenfreude. The inventor of an unspecifed "process" is ruthlessly conned out of it by Martin, and then framed for theft and murder to boot. Though the scam is not formally revealed until it has happened, there is such a sense of creeping paranoia, the viewer is left with no doubts something terrible is going on -- and this suspicion is well founded. Indeed, so elegantly drawn is the deception, that the rest of the film comes as a bit of an anti-climax, the final pay-off not quite living up to a sublime set-up, and Mamet's script succumbs to a deus ex machina ending that counters the surgical precision of the previous 90 minutes. Unlike other entries in the "ordinary guy gets involved in murky business" genre (see below), this one has a plausibility which is especially disturbing, thanks largely to the fine performance of Scott as victimised hero Joe Ross. There, but for the grace of God, we all go.


I didn't expect The Spanish...
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