Francesca Annis,Ray Liotta,Jason Statham,Mark Strong
Jake Green (Jason Statham) is in prison in solitary confinement for seven years. He has two mysterious characters serving solitary in cells on either side of him (one a con man, the other a chess master). While in solitary, Jake and the other two exchange thoughts on chess and the perfect con via handwritten messages slipped inside of provisional books that the three share. Jake comes to learn the makings of a perfect con, but never fully grasps its depth and relevancy to him until much, much later. In the course of these exchanges, Jake reveals a lot about himself to the other two. Jake never meets these two men face to face. The two prisoners plan to break out of prison and agree to break Jake out as well. The next day, the two escape, leaving Jake behind. He feels cheated.Jake remains in prison while the two escaped convicts steal all the money Jake had hidden "on the outside". They trusted Jake with the formula; Jake trusted them as to the whereabouts of his money...a LOT of money. They take the money, leaving in its place, a message on a card:The first rule of any game - YOU CAN ONLY GET SMARTER BY PLAYING A SMARTER OPPONENT.Cut to two years later.When Jake gets out of prison, broke and penniless, he starts to practice what he understands of the formula and of the con he learned from his time in solitary. Its very successful and he does very well in world of gambling, he seemingly learned a valuable lesson from the two conmen inside.Once Jake is up on his feet again (financially speaking), he takes on his nemesis the power hungry Dorothy Macha (Ray Liotta). Jake enters Macha's casino with his brothers in tow, and is swiftly summoned before Macha to play a game of chance. En route to Macha's game, they must take an elevator up 22 floors, where it is revealed Jake suffers from extreme claustrophobia following his years in solitary, and must suppress an anxiety attack to make the journey. At the game, Jake beats him in a game of chance, humiliating Macha. Fearing more of the same, Macha wants revenge and orders a hit on Jake. As Jake and his brothers leave the casino, Jake is approached by a mysterious man (Zach), who offers him assistance and hands him a note reading "take the elevator." Jake cannot face the return journey and opts to take the stairs, but blacks out unexpectedly, falls down the stairs and is rushed to the hospital. The doctors report he is very ill but do not disclose why he had the blackout. Macha puts out the order for a hit on Jake, asking professional killer Sorter (Mark Strong) to take care of things. Jake arrives home, without Billy, to be welcomed by one of Macha's hits. Jake is the only one who survives, being rescued by the mysterious Zach. Sorter is confounded by Jake's escape and survival, unaccustomed to his hits going wrong, which instigates a quiet, intense process of self-questioning in the otherwise passionless killer.Zach takes Jake to his equally mysterious partner, Avi, who produces the results of his hospital tests and informs him that he is in desperate physical trouble from an internal disease, with only three days to live. He tells Jake he and his partner can save him from both Macha and his physical aliment.Simultaneously, Macha is trying to get into business with the infamous, but apparently invisible Sam Gold. He makes a deal with his female representative Lily Walker (who represents the queen on the chess board). Macha is warned if he does not come through on the deal that Sam Gold will be very disappointed. Macha is after the reward of being in business with Gold (who represents the opponent) and foresees no problem.The deal is for some white powder, which represents vice of multiple manifestations, in other words, false ways to escape the wrath of Gold or win the game, but perversely these just bring you closer to him.Jake agrees to do whatever the two mysterious characters tell him to do (a gun to the head so to speak - he has three days to live), there is no time to haggle, and he is prepared to do whatever he's told by these characters. Avi (André Benjamin) and Zach (Vincent Pastore) appear to be loan sharks and gradually force Jake to give away all his money that he made using the con, much to his despair. This is so painful that it seems to be killing a part of him, as Avi and Zach force him to do whatever he hates to do. Jake is repeatedly forced into elevators, taking him on a physiological and psychological ride from hell. They also sabotage Macha's deal with Gold, putting Macha in jeopardy with Gold and forcing Macha to seek the powder from a rival crime boss, Lord Jon (Tom Wu). To make matters worse, they sabotage the deal with Lord Jon to make it appear that each gang is responsible for the treachery. These two gangs begin to destroy one another through their ignorance and greed.Jake's journey climaxes when Avi and Zach, now his masters, ask Jake to shoot a man who didn't pay a debt. Jake refuses, going against the voice in his head. This is the turning point and just when Jake has had enough he forces the two mysterious characters to reveal their game. Is he ready for the answer? What is the point of putting him through all this pain?Avi and Zach simply repeat the treasured formula that Jake learned in prison and which the audience is told at the start of the film.The first rule of any game: YOU CAN ONLY GET SMARTER BY PLAYING A SMARTER OPPONENT.Jake now realizes that he has fallen victim to this "perfect con", that he is actually the pawn in the game, and his opponent ("Sam Gold"), resides inside Jake's head - "the last place he would ever look" (another component of the perfect con formula) Sam Gold is a metaphor camouflaged as fear, ego, evil, the Devil.Now armed with this information which has been so elusive, Jake goes to war with himself. He realizes the game Avi and Zach have made him play has been to diminish the Sam Gold within himself - and that is why he felt like he was dying, because a part of him was.This game it seems is back to front. Jake gives away his remaining money to a charity in Dorothy Macha's name and Macha takes the credit. At this point we understand that the voice we hear in the film as a voice over is not a voice over at all, it's the Sam Gold in each of the characters' heads.Macha is being fattened up by the voice in his head that encourages Macha to take the credit.To conquer the game that Jake now realizes he is in, he goes to Macha and humiliates himself, begging for forgiveness at the foot of his bed. This goes completely against the voice in Jake's head, which is now in major agony. Leaving Macha's bedroom, Jake takes an elevator that gets stuck, (his worst nightmare, as he is claustrophobic) but here is where a real battle takes place. Jake induces the pain "Sam Gold" hides behind. Sam Gold tries every technique to control and debilitate Jake, but Jake is now detached enough from the voice to fall for it. "Embrace the pain and you will win this game" -- in doing this, Jake completely sheds himself of Sam Gold. Immediately upon doing so, the elevator starts up. He realizes that though free from the physical prison he knew for seven years, he was still a prisoner - of his own mind. Upon facing and defeating his fear, he is profoundly free.As the elevator doors open, there stands a confused and angry Macha with a gun in his hand. He can't understand what game Jake is playing, but Jake no longer cares about Macha. Gun or no gun, Jake walks straight past Macha. Because Jake no longer fears him, Macha breaks down. His ego can't handle this, he falls prey to the voice he hears inside his head, the voice of his own "Sam Gold". Still unaware of who Sam Gold really is, and where he resides, Macha agonizes over his knowledge that Sam Gold is going to come and get him. What he doesn't realize is that Sam Gold is already getting him - from the inside.Jake makes a large donation of money to a charity in Macha's name, further conquering the Sam Gold within him, while augmenting the Sam Gold within Macha, who happily takes the credit and public acclaim. Macha is at first magnanimous towards Jake following this gesture, however on learning that Jake had orchestrated the sabotage on the 'powder' deals, Macha orders him dead with renewed vigour. Macha's men find Jake's brother and niece at his home. While Macha's henchmen are in the process of torturing Jake's brother and threatening his little girl, the previously passive Sorter concludes his process of self-questioning and steps in, methodically executing all of Macha's men only to be outgunned in the end by the last surviving member of the gang, who takes Jake's niece back to Macha.Jake, now understanding that the mysterious characters Avi and Zach are not who he thought they were, finishes a game of chess in Macha's casino with Avi. Here it is revealed that Avi could have beaten him at any time. Avi tells him one of the rules again, the art is for the opponent to feed pieces to the victim to make them believe they took those pieces because they are smarter and you are dumber. Jake realizes that these are the two associates from Solitary confinement that he spent seven years living between while in prison. They promised they would break him out of prison and they did, its just Jake didn't realize it was the prison of his mind and how big that prison was. Avi and Zach confide they did not help him because they liked him, but because they ARE him - they are aspects, or projections, of his own higher self. Meanwhile, Jake's Sam Gold persona grew from Jake's activities on emerging from prison, fooling his enemies into thinking he was making them rich when instead he was siphoning their money away from them, just as the ego grows rich from encouraging excess and a sense of entitlement in those within whom it resides.Jake confronts Macha, who is holding his niece hostage. Jake continues to be unafraid of Macha, who continues to be unnerved by his lack of fear - the "Sam Gold" inside Macha is screaming with rage, pride, fear, while Macha himself is consumed by doubt and panic. Macha is convinced Sam Gold is coming to kill him for screwing up the 'powder' delivery and the "Sam Gold" within Macha - his ego - whispers "you can't kill someone who's already dead." Ultimately, his pride and fear lead Macha to suicide rather than kill Jake or his niece. Sam Gold wins.In the end it's a story about realizing that the prison is the mind and the ego is the hidden master of that environment. The only real enemy to have ever existed is within; it is fear. The external world is determined, to great degree, by one's fear. Fear is the opponent in life, and as you get smarter so does he. Once it's recognized for what it is, it can be mastered, but without recognition of this situation, you are simply an unconscious slave and the game hasn't gone full circle.