We gave it an A-
In 1984, Joe Mantegna won a Tony for his portrayal of Ricky Roma in David Mamet’s Glengarry Glen Ross. But when turning the play into a film, the studio wanted a bigger name: Al Pacino. Mamet broke the news to his old pal and, as an apology, offered him the lead in House of Games. It’s hard to imagine a better consolation prize.
With a parlor-trick plot and neon-lit cinematography right out of Edward Hopper’s Nighthawks, Games is a con within a con within a con. And best of all, the audience is the unwitting mark in all of this delicious flimflammery. Lindsay Crouse (a.k.a. Mrs. Mamet at the time) plays a tightly wound therapist whose thirst for excitement leads her into the fly trap of Mantegna’s charismatic hustler, Mike Mancuso. Soon, he’s teaching her about poker and the art of the grift…and maybe, or maybe not, taking her to the cleaners in the process. With her icy gestures and robotic delivery of Mamet’s staccato dialogue, Crouse is hard to warm to. But Mantegna, smooth as Chinese silk, emerges in his first major screen role as a fully formed star. He oozes double-breasted sharkskin danger.
Aside from a flawless Criterion transfer, the disc’s extras include somewhat perfunctory interviews with its two leads, a jazzy commentary track from Mamet and ”con consultant”/costar Ricky Jay, and a making-of, which incorporates a home video of one of Mamet’s friendly poker games, where macho patter flies like hot shrapnel. A-