THREE STARS - Wholesome
What happens to a person who uses their apparent sincerity to deceive others? One can only imagine what that does to them and those who live with them.
And when such people join together in a scheme to deceive honest people out of their possessions and wealth, what do they really gain through this “confidence scheme?”
Though many of us have our tales to tell of such scam artists, there are few as engaging and enigmatic as the one writer and director David Mamet creates in his film “The Spanish Prisoner.”
Naming the film after a classic confidence scheme in which a person is asked to help get money out of a foreign country by “fronting” some of their own money with a promise of a fortune in return, Mamet’s film is an entertaining one.
Played with an over-acted campiness which doesn’t take itself too seriously, we find ourselves enjoying the story’s humor while trying to solve its intrigue.
But what sets this film on the same level as “The Sting” is that even the knowledge that there is a scam going on does not help the audience figure it out. This is inability to identify who is lying is perhaps the most helpful lesson from the film.
Usually, in our relationships, we choose to spend our time with trustworthy and honest people, this can cause us to become overly confident in our ability to spot a lie. The truth is that we can easily be deceived.
Some, especially those for whom deceit has become a chosen way of life, are able to lie with none of the tell-tale signs. They look us in the eye, they sincerely are surprised if we raise any questions, they have answers for our doubts, and they even know when to push back, with just the right indignation when we posit our disbelief. In other words, everything we have come to rely on in the art of communication deceives us. They have become masters of deceit.
When God including lying in the 10 Commandments, this implies that there is danger in such behavior.
Lies, by their very nature, destroy safety.
Mamet wonderfully weaves this message throughout his film. Both visually and verbally, we experience the disintegrating world of Joe Ross (Campbell Scott) as he becomes the target of a multi-layered confidence scheme.
Although a single lie from one person to another is dangerous in its consequences to the trust and intimacy of the relationship, when that same lie is presented by several people, the danger expands exponentially.
This is true whether the lie is told by a band of people playing a scam or whether it is told by a government for political purposes.
When lies become the currency of our communication, then the souls of everyone involved soon become bankrupt.
As “The Spanish Prisoner’” effectively presents in its case study, lies have a way of producing increasingly destructive consequences.
At first, Joe Ross is simply lied to in order to take a precious possession of his. But such lies soon must be covered up with other lies and actions which become increasingly hurtful.
This truth is seen when they not only steal his prize and destroy his life by ruining his career, but when they also set him up with the law. However,the destruction doesn’t stop there; it eventually leads to murder.
This, of course, is the truth about lies. If it were possible to simply deceive one another without that deception destroying us, we could laugh at the little lies people say. We could excuse our children for their denials and even excuse our leaders of their cover-ups.
But lies destroy us. Only the truth sets us free.
There are some wonderful twists in the story of “The Spanish Prisoner” which gives hints of the truth. And that too is the way of lies.
Though a scam artist or lying person may be able to deceive us for a time, the confidence scheme itself is based on our not being deceived forever. So, our disbelief is planned for, until that too no longer works.
Being a prisoner to the lies of others is an experience which strikes deep into our souls. Our pain is deep because in the heart of all of us is a longing to be trusted and appreciated for who we are.