As far as screenplays go, House of Games is a work of great cutting quality; written in Mamet's recognized concise style, House of Games permeates with a foreboding, volatile aura. When a too structured and career-driven yet refined and scholarly Dr. Margaret Ford, psychiatrist and author of the best-selling self-help book, Driven, is duped into helping Billy Hahn, a young man with a gambling addiction, she gets more than what is bargained for. She is led into the seedy underworld of the con man and all the baggage associated with him: drinking, unabashed gambling, lasciviousness, intricately woven lies, extremity upon extremity. But it is all cleaverly camouflaged by the many defrauders whom she encounters as exciting danger, rebellion against the smothering laws that only "good" citizens adhere to and being on the outer fringes of decency, good breeding and highbrowism. Ford, who gravely lacks any form of enjoyment in her life, is immediately drawn to the pulsating raw truth and "think quick" lifestyle of the brazen swindlers, for they gradually convince her-through a series of cons-that all humanity are imbued-one way or the other-with absolute cold indifference, for if you get bamboozled, it's your own fault and you probably deserved it. Dr. Margaret Ford exemplifies that for everybody. But she does not merely epitomize as a victim, she typifies it, through her own unsettling metamorphosis, as a kleptomaniac, murderess, and ultimately, a con woman. She evolves from good, introverted intellectual and respectable doctor to a cunning, manipulative, vindictive killer with a proclivity for thievery. So then the question is posed: Was Dr. Ford inherently a repressed criminal or was she the product of the sleezy environment and those in it? As Ford penetrates to what she genuinely believes is the psychological core of the sharpie personality, she is led by the leader, Mike, into a smoothly orchestrated plot that eventually bilks her out of $80,000; soon after, the scheme goes terribly awry when Mike holds a mirror to Dr. Ford's face, a mirror that she long avoided looking into.
Mike: I "used" you. I did. I'm sorry. And you learned some things about yourself that you'd rather not know. I'm sorry for that, too. You say I acted atrociously. Yes. I did. I do it for a living. (He gives her a salute and starts for the door.)
Ford: You sit down.
Mike: I'd love to, but I've got some things to do.
She cocks the gun.
(Of gun:) You can't bluff someone who's not paying attention.
Ford shoots him. He falls.
Mike: Are you nuts? What are you...nuts...?
Ford: I want you to beg me.
A radical turnabout occurs whereby the aloof victimizer becomes the casuality of his own folly, only to be replaced by Ford, who progresses onward to hone and define his criminal teachings, meticulously making them more her own. Ford's criminality is even more severe, for she turns into one of the criminally addicted patients that she (by her medical practice) is designated to help; her overall presence is refined, classy, learned, delicate, vulnerable, unsuspecting. Those are the worst kinds of lawbreakers: A friendy face on the outside, and something entirely different on the inside.