Friday, January 12, 2007

Movie Review: The Spanish Prisoner 4 ½ Stars

Writer/director David Mamet has crafted a taut thriller that owes as much to Orwellian doublespeak as it does to Hitchcock. A latter-day Josef K. from The Trial, Joe Ross (Campbell Scott) is an unassuming middle management worker drone for an international megacorp. Ross has developed the enigmatic "Process" which will revolutionize the nameless company’s unknown “product” allowing them to gain control of the market. Ross believes that, above and beyond his salary, he should receive a bonus for the “Process.” He refuses to divulge any information about “The Process” until he can secure a meeting with the corporation's president, Mr. Klein (Ben Gazzara). When Ross finally speaks with the president, Klein deftly sidesteps the issue of money, assuring Ross that “the effort will be appreciated.”

Ross is then sent to the Caribbean on business. There, he meets Jimmy Dell (Steve Martin), a mysterious stranger of incredible wealth and means. Back in New York, Ross, by seeming coincidence, runs into Jimmy again. This random encounter sparks off a chain of chance events that traps Ross in a web of deception and intrigue. Nothing is as it first seems. Wrongly accused of corporate crimes, incontrovertible evidence stacked against him, Ross can trust no one save his secretary Susan (Rebecca Pidgeon), who has designs on more than just a professional relationship.

With Mamet’s signature dialogue cadence, the noirish script provides an endless supply of unpredictable plot twists. As central as the plot is, however, the characters actually drive this captivating potboiler about corporate greed and office politics. Campbell Scott is completely sympathetic as the hapless victim, whose chief traits, civility and a code of ethics, are also his chief flaws in the ruthless world of corporate backstabbing. Steve Martin infuses Jimmy Dell with sinister charm. Rebecca Pidgeon fascinates as the femme fatale that won’t take Joe’s “no” for an answer.

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