There's a slight chance, very slight, that David Mamet is a genius. As a writer, his blunt, edgy, and constantly interrupted dialogue has earned him a lot of weight, so much so that he is considered one of the more important playwrights of the last 25 years or so. As a director, he is precise and extremely-well calculated, if not a bit lacking in aesthetic substance and style. When he directs his own work, it tends to go remarkably smooth, as it did in the fantastic Heist and his best film, State and Main. However, when put in the hands of others, sometimes it goes exceedingly well (James Foster's Glengarry Glen Ross) or exceedingly bad (Michael Corrente's American Buffalo). The latest is a retelling of his play Edmond by King of the Ants helmer Stuart Gordon
On his way home from work, Edmond Burke (William H. Macy
) decides to stop at a fortune teller. She simply tells him this: "You are not where you're supposed to be." This causes him to leave his wife (a brief Rebecca Pidgeon
) and to go out on the town to get an old fashioned piece of tail, as suggested by a stranger at a bar (the reputable Joe Mantegna
). He goes through strippers, booth girls and expensive call girls, played by a who's who of young actresses ranging from Mena Suvari
to Denise Richards
. He finally settles on a waitress (Julia Stiles) who he picks up after attacking a pimp and finding a newfound love for life. This passion, however, leads to a terrible act that lands him in jail and doing things that he was scared of before, constantly saying "every fear hides a wish." Article continues below
Mamet's sly style of writing somehow seems lacking here. In Glengarry, he wrote with blood and thunder about the rigorous work of real estate salesmen and in Oleanna, he split the sexual harassment debate so thinly that you couldn't see his opinion without microscope eyes. With Edmond however, he lays everything out for the audience and world to see, allowing the character to often pontificate on basic musings like what it's like to feel alive and the mundane nature of normal life. There is a serious lack of subtext that gives off the feeling of extreme annoyance.
Gordon directs with a simple enough structuralism and he gives impressive terror to the climactic scene where Edmond goes over the edge. However, this simplicity also leads to a considerable loss in mood and atmosphere, which seems devoid after the excellent opening scene in the fortune teller's room. The actors, chiefly Macy and Stiles, struggle to keep the story afloat and exciting, but it's a losing battle. Reliable character actors like Bai Ling
and Dylan Walsh
(so good in Nip/Tuck) are given scant screen time to show their prowess, but Bokeem Woodbine
works wonders as Edmond's bunkmate when he enters prison. None of this, however, allows Edmond to make more than a small ripple in the water. It's a fussy little movie that wants to be much more controversial and important than it is. Did I say those chances were very, very slight?