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. Many actors who would become Mamet's Production Posse have roles in the film.
A famous psychologist, Margaret Ford (Crouse), meets a gambler and conman, Mike (Mantegna), who introduces her to his dark and seductive underworld of deception. What at first starts as an intellectual curiosity, and then a thrill, soon goes over her head.
This film provides examples of:
- The '80s: Unmistakenly.
- Abandoned Warehouse: 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.
- The Bad Guy Wins: Subverted. After Margaret kills Mike at the climax, she herself is shown to have been corrupted into unrepentant petty thievery.
- Batman Gambit: The con works out because Margaret is doing exactly what she is supposed to do, up until the very end.
- 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 pocket knife, which Margaret steals from the hotel room, creates some repercussions later in the story.
- The Con: Everything that happens in the film was a long con aimed at Margaret.
- Con Man: Mike and his friends. The main twist of the movie is that Margaret thinks that she's participating in cons, but she's actually the victim.
- 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 skipped over.
- Downer Ending: Margaret gets revenge on Mike for the scam, but she herself has become a villain, as the last scene suggests.
- Dramatic Gun Cock: Margaret cocks the gun on Mike when he tries to leave during the final confrontation.
- Emerging from the Shadows: Mike enters the story this way.
- The Ending Changes Everything: Margaret has an And You Were There moment on her second visit to Charlie's Tavern.
- Famous Last Words: "Thank you, sir. May I have another?"
- Freudian Slip: Margaret does this twice when talking to her mentor. First comes when they meet for lunch:Margaret : I think the only pressures in my life ...
Mentor: The only what?
Margaret: Pleasures. I said "pleasures".
- The second time comes after a session with the prisoner that doesn't go well; Margaret says, "My father called her a whore", and her mentor catches that as well.
- 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.
- Kansas City Shuffle: The first con Mike plays on her, which she is supposed to deduce, to get her drawn into the rest of the con.
- Karma Houdini: Apparently Margaret gets away with her murder.
- The Mark: It's turns out to be Margaret herself.
- 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.
- Plot-Sensitive Latch: Invoked. When Mike reaches for the suitcase, it "accidentally" opens to reveal $80,000 in cash.
- "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!
- Could also have been an attempt to Break Them by Talking.
- 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.