Dir: Stuart Gordon. US.2005. 81mins.
You never know how aDavid Mamet adaptation is going to turn out. The best of the last 10 years, Oleanna,was the one that stayed closest to its stage original in the college settingand the claustrophobic one-to-one stand-off of the two main characters.
William H Macy starred thereand stars again here in this reworking of Mamet's 1982 one-act play Edmond,as an insignificant corporate middle-manager who goes on an all-night bender inthe scuzzy pawn-shop and sex-trade underbelly of New York.
But paradoxically, inangling for more cinematic realism, director Stuart Gordon - a long-time Mametcollaborator - only emphasises the staginess of the dialogue, and the contrivednature of the meetings that string out the main character's nocturnal odyssey.
As always, there are somegood one-liners and a few darkly comic moments; and Macy's turn as a weak manwho stumbles into crime (shades of Fargo there) is always watchable. Butthe actor's performance is more interesting than the character himself, whosewhole existence is based on a dramatic cliche: that under the skin of everymild-mannered, politically-correct white male American is a rabid, violentracist and misogynist straining to get out.
The slew of productioncredits suggest that risk-sharing was the order of the day, and one can seewhy. A sour little curio, Edmond will do a limited duty tour of theStates and stir fitful arthouse interest in some overseas territories.
On impulse, attracted by anumeric coincidence, homebound businessman Edmond (Macy) dives into a tackyesoteric emporium to have his fortune told.
"You are not where youbelong" is the wizened Tarot reader's conclusion; so, in order to find outwhere he does belong, uptight Edmond slips his middle-class moorings andwanders into the sex district. Wary of rip-offs, he haggles with a hooker,played by Mena Suvari, and again with Bai Ling's peep-show dancer.
His stinginess and suspicionturn people against Edmond, and torpedo any chance he might have of enjoyinghimself. There's some edgy satire on the psychotic power of the dollar in theseearly scenes which continues into Edmond's pedantic transactions in a pawnshop.
But the film shifts gearwhen, cornered by a huckster, Edmond explodes into an orgy of racist violence,facilitated by a knife he picked up at the pawn shop. Thereafter, Edmond isless a believable character, more a vehicle for Mametian theorising. Theimplausibility reaches rock bottom in a bedroom scene between Edmond and JuliaStiles, a sweet waitress whose agreement with her seducer's increasinglyunbalanced hate-rants seems entirely out of character.
The film has an undeniablesense of style, with its moody night camerawork and breathy, jazz-funk sax andtrumpet soundtrack. And some of the pseudo-philosophical banter raises a smile,or tickles the grey matter.
In the end, though, thewhole exercise springs from a simplistic critique of political correctness thatmay have seemed relevant when the play was written, in 1982, but which appearsdated and dogmatic today.
Red Hen Productions
Fully Loaded Pictures
Pretty Dangerous Films
The Hecht Company
Tricia Van Klaveren
Ryan R Johnson
William H Macy