Film: House Of Games

Of course you gave me your trust ... that's what I do for a living!

House of Games is David Mamet's 1987 directorial debut. He also wrote the screenplay, based on a story he wrote with Jonathan Katz. The film's cast includes David Mamet's then-wife Lindsay Crouse and Joe Mantegna. William H. Macy can be seen in a minor part.

A famous psychologist, Margaret Ford (Crouse), decides to try to help one of her patients get out of a gambling debt. She visits the bar where Mike (Mantegna), to whom the debt is owed, runs poker games. He convinces her to help him in a game: her assignment is to look for "tells", or give-away body language. What seems easy to her becomes much more complex.

This film provides examples of:

  • Abandoned Airport: The restricted area of the airport is completely unmanned. Even the gun shots wouldn't attract anybody's attention.
  • Abusive Parents: Margaret has a patient whose father repeatedly called her a whore during her childhood.
  • Batman Gambit: The Massive Multiplayer Scam works out because Margaret is doing exactly what she is supposed to do.
  • Black and Gray Morality: All characters are flawed, some more than others.
  • City Noir: All night-time scenes involving the House of Games and Charlie's Tavern show features of this.
  • Blood from the Mouth: The dying cop has this in a remorse flashback of Margaret's.
  • Bullet Holes and Revelations: Invoked. Margaret tries to get around the armed cop when suddenly the gun goes off. After a moment of stillness, the cop sinks to the ground.
  • Chekhov's Gun: The switchblade knife, which Margaret steals from the hotel room, creates some repercussions later in the story.
  • Con Man: Mike and his friends.
  • The Con Within A Con: The main twist of the movie.
  • Corrupt the Cutie: Mike tries to do this to Margaret. He succeeds posthumously, as revealed when she steals a gold lighter and smiles, completely hooked to conning.
  • Defiant to the End: Mike acts like this at gun point. Almost to the extent of being a Death Seeker.
  • Disproportionate Retribution: Taking a life for the loss of $80,000 seems a bit harsh.
  • Do You Want to Copulate?: Mike's straight-forward question: "Do you wanna make love with me?"
  • Did They or Didn't They?: The sex scene at the hotel is being skipped over.
  • Dramatic Gun Cock: Margaret cocks the gun on Mike when he tries to leave during the final confrontation.
  • The '80s: Unmistakenly.
  • Emerging from the Shadows: Mike enters the story this way.
  • The Ending Changes Everything: Margaret is having an And You Were There moment on her second visit to Charlie's Tavern.
  • Fake Mark: The cop.
  • Famous Last Words: "Thank you, sir. May I have another?"
  • Freudian Slip:
    Margaret : I think the only pressures in my life ...
    Mentor: The only what?
    Margaret: Pleasures. I said "pleasures".
  • Gray Rain of Depression: The heavy rain when Margaret returns to Charlie's Tavern.
  • He's Dead, Jim: Invoked. Mike checks the cop's pulse for five seconds to come up with this diagnose.
  • Informed Attractiveness: Invoked by Mike to charm Margaret: "You're a lovely woman."
  • I Was Never Here: Margaret makes this clear to Mike, before she kills him.
  • Karma Houdini: Apparently Margaret gets away with her murder.
  • The Mark: It's turns out to be Margaret herself.
  • Massive Multiplayer Scam: Margaret participates in several scams that require multiple participants, then discovers that it was all part of a scam on her.
  • Misplaced-Names Poster: The movie poster has the names of the two leads swapped around.
  • Most Writers Are Writers: The heroine is a well-known psychiatrist with a best selling book.
  • Obsessive-Compulsive Barkeeping: The barkeeper at Charlie's Tavern is polishing glasses when Margaret enters.
  • Pigeon Drop: Mike demonstrates it to Margeret at a Western Union. To prove he's a Nice Guy to her, he doesn't complete the con on his mark.
  • Plot-Sensitive Latch: Invoked. When Mike reaches for the suitcase, it "accidentally" opens to reveal $80,000 in cash.
  • Quick Change: The trick involving $20 falls into this category.
  • "The Reason You Suck" Speech: Mike is Defiant to the End and delivers a final hate speech to Margaret.
    Mike: Hey, fuck you! This is what you always wanted, you crooked bitch! You thief! You always need to get caught, cuz you know you're bad. I never hurt anybody. I never shot anybody. You sought this out. This is what you always wanted. I knew it the first time you came in. You're worthless, you know it? You're a whore! You came back like a dog to its own vomit! You sick bitch! I'm not gonna give you shit!
  • Shout-Out: The hotel room that Mike takes Margaret to is room #1138 which is a reference to George Lucas's THX 1138.
  • The Shrink: Margaret is a caring psychologist. And then along came Billy Hahn ...
  • Smoking Is Cool: Most characters smoke in a rather neo-noir way.
  • The Tell: A running theme in the movie.
    • Invoked when Mike spots a tell in his poker game opponent.
    • Mike demonstrates the working of a tell to Margaret in a "hidden penny" game. Margaret's tell is her nose pointing into the direction of the hand holding the token.
    • Mike can sense the finger Margaret thinks of. We are not explicitly told how.
  • Would Hit a Girl: The old con man slaps Margaret in the face when she refuses to steal the car.