Director: David Mamet
Running Time: 1 hour, 50 minutes
An engineer named Joe (Campbell Scott) has developed a valuable industrial process for his company. He is tempted to betray their trust when he meets a wealthy stranger named Jimmy Dell (Steve Martin) while on a corporate retreat on St. Estèphe after Jimmy convinces Joe he deserves guaranteed compensation in writing.
"The Spanish Prisoner" is a dramatic mystery thriller written and directed by David Mamet. It stars Campbell Scott as Joe Ross, an engineer who has developed a super secret industrial process worth millions of dollars. While on a corporate retreat, Joe meets a wealthy stranger named Jimmy Dell, played by Steve Martin. The two hit it off, and Jimmy thinks Joe should meet his sister for dinner once he gets back to New York. Unfortunately, Jimmy's sister is always unable to make their dinner dates. Regardless, Joe and Jimmy continue their bonding. Jimmy starts to convince Joe that he deserves proper compensation for his process, and though his boss says he will receive what's coming to him, Jimmy thinks he should get it in writing. Now, Joe must decide what to do going forward.
There is a lot more to the plot of this neo-noir drama, more than we can talk about since giving any other details away would spoil too much of the story. Early on in "The Spanish Prisoner," we were a little worried because it starts off pretty rough and super slow. The way it is shot and lit almost feels more like a television series than a movie. Much of the dialogue comes off as unnatural. Many lines that are spouted off would never come out of someone's mouth in normal day to day conversation. The writing feels more theatrical than what you would normally hear from a film. It all makes sense if you know that David Mamet is a playwright, but beyond just the words themselves, they are often delivered in a monotonous tone by much of the cast in a clearly play-like manner. There is no worse offender in this monotonic delivery than Rebecca Pidgeon, who plays the company's new secretary, a woman who has a thing for Joe. Pidgeon also just happens to be Mamet's real life wife, which probably explains a lot. Beyond these problems with the film that feel off-putting early on, as the story starts to slowly unravel, we get more and more engaged in this complex mystery. The narrative is very tight in its structure and keeps us fully enthralled as we always want to know what happens next. We never really know who is telling the truth, or who might have more sinister motives at play.
In the end, we believe the strength of the plot of "The Spanish Prisoner" overcomes the minor annoyances and faults in the technical aspects of film making. If you can look past the play-like mannerisms of the actors and the dialogue in the way it's stiffly and unnaturally written, this is an interesting, twisty neo-noir thriller that can keep you guessing if you let it. Some instances feel contrived, but mostly, it succeeds at being a dramatic mystery.
My Rating: 6.5/10
BigJ's Rating: 7/10
IMDB's Rating: 7.3/10
Rotten Tomatoes Rating: 88%
Do we recommend this movie: Sure, why not?