The film is riveting while Mamet spins his plot with the crisp twists of a cerebral adventure.


A Illusion review by Joan Ellis.

During David Mamet's "The Spanish Prisoner," the audience chuckles repeatedly and appreciatively at the sheer cleverness of the thing. On one level, it is a wonderfully crafted story of corporate conspiracy; on another, it's an intricate metaphysical puzzle, a story of betrayal clothed in impeccable manners.

Mamet's backdrop is always tantalizingly ambiguous. We can never be sure who people are or why they are where they are. The corporate image hangs heavily in the air, never identified, represented by one man here, another there, its power all the more ominous because it is left undefined. Mamet unleashes a series of stunning surprises that undercut any assumptions we have made as we watch.

Joe Ross (Campbell Scott) has invented "The Process," a breakthrough of some kind that will corner the global market for those who control it. All Joe asks is fair compensation for his work. As the intrigue escalates, beautiful manners clothe the motivations of the elegant villains.

Enter Jimmy Dell (Steve Martin), a thoroughly mysterious tycoon, who befriends Joe and tutors him in protecting his invention. "I'm a problem solver," he says, as uses his power to manipulate from the shadows. Steve Martin, speaking Mamet's spare sentences with quiet authority, is terrific as Jimmy Dell

Poor, naive Joe, who does not want to be in an adversarial position with the company that hired him, lands exactly there. "Why would anyone steal what others have worked for?" Why? indeed. The more treacherous things become, the more alone he is. Campbell Scott is not only credible as the honorable inventor, but also appealing in the quiet intelligence he bestows on his character. The man who invented "The Process" may be naive in the ways of betrayal, but he's a quick study when it comes to dishonorable people.

The marvelous, Kafkaesque discomfort of the film comes largely from watching a man become unmoored, removed from the familiar and thrown into circumstances he can neither control nor understand. He is a fugitive in his own streets. With no one to trust and a huge secret to guard, he faces a network of enemies. He is surrounded by corporate villains, the FBI, the Japanese-or is he?

The film is riveting while Mamet spins his plot with the crisp twists of a cerebral adventure. The weakness, and believe me, it's not too damaging, sets in when action, however brief, silences the dialogue that has ensnared us. So accustomed are we to action as a substitute for words that the film nearly loses its core when it veers a little too close to the ordinary near the end, but it pulls back quickly enough to preserve the spell it has cast.

What a pleasure: a grand cast speaking in deliberate sentences that demand attention, a sharp challenge thrown to the audience to follow the trail, an evening of trying to outguess a master tale spinner. Listen as hard as you can; you still won't catch it all.

Film Critic : JOAN ELLIS
Word Count : 497
Studio : Sony Pictures Classics
Rating : PG
Running Time: 1h52m

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