The Spanish Prisoner

What Jesse said:

You should watch The Spanish Prisoner. It’s another movie where I had no idea what was going on until the end. Once it’s over you’ll think back through everything and realize how much you missed. This is a movie that you have to pay attention to the whole way through, and even then you won’t understand it until it’s done.

Mike’s verdict:

The Spanish Prisoner is mostly how Jesse described it – except for the fact that it’s brutally obvious.

Anyone who understands the reference in the title knows exactly what this movie is going to be about – there’s no hiding the fact that something sneaky is going to happen to our protagonist.  So the key then is to make sure that the audience can’t guess who are the good guys and who are the bad guys. Red herrings should be everywhere, and they should be believable. The good guys should look like good guys, the bad guys should look like good guys, and the completely irrelevant characters should look like bad guys. It’s the only way to make the twists work; unfortunately, that didn’t happen. I won’t ruin the story for anyone that wants to watch it, but know going in that the mystery is in how the trick is pulled off rather than who is in on it.

But it’s not all bad. I did enjoy seeing the setup and delivery of the con, which was entertaining even if the hero’s mistakes were blatant and superficial. I also enjoyed the style of dialog which is more often found in a stage play. It’s peculiar and has an odd cadence that at first feels unnatural, but it grows on you. This was especially true for Rebecca Pidgeon‘s character Susan who is fantastically awkward to watch.

This film immediately reminded me of House of Games. It has a very similar dialog style and con-artist motif too. I didn’t realize it until starting to write this review, but the two films have a very good reason for being similar. They were both written and directed by David Mamet; House of Games coming a whole decade earlier. If I had to choose, I’d say the earlier film is better. It’s got a gritty, low-life con-artist feel where The Spanish Prisoner tried to be slick.

For its dialog and clever scheme, The Spanish Prisoner gets a 6/10. But if you’re going to watch it, watch House of Games first.

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