The Spanish Prisoner, explains a character in writer-director David Mamet's latest offering, is the oldest confidence trick in the book. You find a suitable victim, make them believe an improbable story, then lure them in with some tempting bait. The con, in other words, serves as a metaphor for the relationship between the film-maker and his/her audience.
This engrossing fable about loyalty, duplicity and self-delusion sees Mamet return to the con-artist terrain of his first film House Of Games. Yet this is a lighter, more comic thriller, closer in spirit to the Hitchcock of North By Northwest than the neo-noir territory of say The Grifters.
The less revealed about the mathematically precise plot the better. Suffice to say that the `process' itself is nothing more than a McGuffin, while the twists and turns bring The Usual Suspects to mind. Take nothing for granted in this sealed-off universe. As the secretary (Pidgeon), who may or may not be part of the grift asks: "Who in the world is what they seem?"
Aside from the ingeniously constructed narrative, there's so much else to relish here: Carter Burwell's eerie score, Gabriel Beristan's polished cinematography, the archness of much of the dialogue and some terrific gags.
The central performances are also perfectly judged. Campbell is excellent as the working man who proves vulnerable to Jimmy's promises of a better life, while Martin is revelatory in a non-comic role, playing Jimmy as a combination of bluff charm and terse menace.