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Scott Ventura >> Movie Commentary >> June 2001 >> The Spanish Prisoner

The Spanish Prisoner

Movie Commentary by Scott Ventura


Scott's Rating:
3 / 5
Times Seen:
Viewing Date:
June 2001
IMDB Name:
Spanish Prisoner, The (1997)
David Mamet
mystery, suspense
MPAA Rating:
PG for thematic elements including tension, some violent images and brief language.

Pinball Machine

I love playing pinball. It's an inherently analog game that calls for hand-eye coordination more than memory. The player influences the path of the ball without determining it outright. Does the ball have any semblance of free will? David Mamet's The Spanish Prisoner is a pinball machine in which the main character is influenced by those around him without ever really doing anything himself. It is an interesting machine, to be sure, but the main character is always tossed about instead of doing the tossing. The movie falls short of similar fare like The Game because the capable Campbell Scott doesn't ever get to be anything other than a patsy. Perhaps a more grave fault, the movie doesn't really move before the sixty-minute mark, which is an awfully long setup given the quality of the resolution.

The story echoes vaguely of the master of suspense, Alfred Hitchcock. The vaguely named "process", with its never-revealed value, smacks of the MacGuffin, that which everyone seeks, even though its exact nature is unimportant to the narrative. I have to imagine that Hitchcock would've given us more tension, more nefarious and less omnipotent foes, and a more charismatic hero. I can also imagine a much tighter pace, a la Rope or Dial M for Murder. I admire Mamet for trying, and I admire him for toning down his trademark dialogue style to place more emphasis on the story, but this isn't quite the material for a classic.

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Copyright 2001 by Scott Ventura. All rights reserved.