The Spanish Prisoner

Director: David Mamet
Screenwriters: David Mamet

Institute History

  • 1998 Sundance Film Festival


Mixing greed with paranoia can be a lethal combination, but it makes for exhilarating filmmaking. Joe is an eager young man on the edge of making his mark in the business world. He has developed a revolutionary strategy called The Process. He is invited to the Caribbean by his boss, where he will make his presentation to the board and in return reap his reward. But when his bonus fails to materialize and even an amount is never discussed, Joe is left to fret on his own. When an enigmatic rich stranger, Jimmy Dell, literally lands on the scene, Joe is hurled headlong into a labyrinth of deception, illusion, and intrigue. When, in any given week, casting calls seek “actors who can deliver Mametlike dialogue” and plays are described as Mametesque, a writer has officially entered the public consciousness. In The Spanish Prisoner, the original outshines any pale imitations. Mamet’s signature staccato dialogue punctuates the intricate plot as it twists and turns with startling results. The strengths at its core are the performances and characterizations, and the cast is simply remarkable.

Campbell Scott is flawless as Joe, systematically worn to his last nerve; Steve Martin taps into the powerful Jimmy with a performance that is elegant but subdued; and Rebecca Pidgeon’s sassy secretary is complex and alluring. All together this fifth film directed by one of America’s most prolific playwrights is as much a joy to watch as it is to hear. Already a master of the spoken word, Mamet reaches new heights in The Spanish Prisoner with his cinematic language.

David Mamet, Director
David Mamet is one of the most acclaimed playwrights of our time, whose works include Sexual Perversity in Chicago, American Buffalo, Glengarry Glen Ross, Edmond, and Oleanna. As a screenwriter, his credits include The Postman Always Rings Twice, The Verdict, The Untouchables, Hoffa, and The Edge
. As writer/director, his films are House of Games, Things Change, Homicide, and Oleanna.

— John Cooper

Screening Details

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