Office Christmas Party
Another reminder that allowing your cast to madly improvise instead of actually providing a coherent script with a scintilla of inherent logic often leads to…
Almost all of David Mamet's movies involve some kind of con game. Sometimes it is a literal con, as in "House of Games," where a character is deliberately deceived by fraudsters. Sometimes it is an inadvertent con, as in "Things Change," where an old shoeshine man is mistaken for the head of the Chicago mob. Sometimes it is a double con, as in "Glengarry Glen Ross," where real estate salesmen con customers while they are themselves being conned by the company they work for.
None of these cons is written or presented in simple criminal terms, as classic confidence games. They all involve an additional level of emotional conning, which makes them such splendid material for drama. In "House of Games" (1987), there is a scene where the underlying strategy of the con is explained, and the explanation fits for all of his films. "The basic idea is this," the con man (Joe Mantegna) explains to the woman who has become his student (Lindsay Crouse). "It's called a confidence game. Why? Because you give me your confidence? No. Because I give you mine."
He demonstrates. They are in a Western Union office, pretending to wait for money to be wired to him. A man enters and asks the clerk if his money has arrived. It has not. He sits down. Mantegna gets him into conversation, finds out he is a Marine who needs bus fare to get back to Camp Pendleton, and smoothly says, "You're in the Corps? I was in the Corps." Having established this bond, Mantegna offers to give the guy the bus fare, just as soon as Mantegna's own wire arrives. He gives his confidence. He shows he trusts the other guy. Of course, the other man's wire arrives first, and of course he offers Mantegna money. The beauty of it is, in the entire transaction, Mantegna has never asked for money--only offered it.
This fraudulent offering of trust underlies one Mamet film after another, and yet is never repetitive because it unlocks unlimited dramatic possibilities. There is hardly ever a slow moment in Mamet's films because even small talk, even passing the time of day, is fraught with the hidden motives of the speakers. Even when nothing seems to be happening, our attention is held by the illusion that something must be happening, but we can't spot it. This is Mamet's con on us. He offers us his confidence that we can follow his plot.