Film Scouts Reviews

"The Spanish Prisoner"

by Jason Gorber

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Toronto, September 9, 1997

For some reason, David Mamet's scripts always remind me of Nabokov. The deliberate, beautifully crafted phrasing, the immaculate use of language, and the carefulness of pronunciation of the characters ("Lo-lee-tah"). There is a playfulness in Mamet's language, a mix of the colloquial with the sublimely cool. The playwright/screenwriter/director also often employs a really clever technique of the interrupted conversation - "Glengarry Glen Ross" is an excellent example of characters interfering with their counterparts' lines in a deliberate (but, when done well, perfectly natural) way. It's as if the entire film has every period replaced by three...

The opening scenes of "The Spanish Prisoner" employ this technique better than I can remember in any of his other works. The film immediately catapults itself into a fuzzy narrative - through the interruptions, the audience gets enough of an idea about what the characters are talking about, but never enough to really have a clear idea what specifically is being discussed. This failed anticipation immediately intrigues the viewer, and allows this taught film to maintain interest until the end.

"The Spanish Prisoner" is a really wonderful, beautifully made film. Steve Martin's role is pretty fantastic, and may serve as the vehicle which re-invigorates his career. The rest of the cast are uniformly great, from Campbell Scott as the lead to a rich supporting cast of character actors - including a well written woman's role (shock!) for Rebecca Pidgeon.

Plot summary for this one is quite useless, and would even lessen your enjoyment of the movie. Suffice it to say that the film explores language and ideas in a way rarely seen on screen, and I certainly hope the film finds the audience that it deserves. "The Spanish Prisoner", non-subtitled and non-"foreign", may well prove to be one of the big hits of the festival, and I wouldn't be surprised at all to see Oscar consideration eventually. Just try your best not to let anyone ruin the fun by giving a summary of the complex yet delicate plot.

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