Whether it’s a white-collar noir (“Glengarry Glen Ross”), a courtroom drama (“The Verdict”), a gangster saga (“The Untouchables”), a brainy thriller (“The Spanish Prisoner,” “Ronin”), or even a monster movie (“The Edge”), it seems that David Mamet’s particularly cerebral, male-centric dramaturgy needs the rigors of a plot-driven narrative in which to subdue and shape itself. Otherwise, we get something like “Oleanna”–the playwright/filmmaker’s fatally stilted screed about sexual harassment. With its clipped, oblique dialogue (that old Mamet trademark), and characters that act and talk like they’ve come out of a factory box, molded out of stereotypes of, respectively, the finger-wagging feminist female and the pussy-whipped, white-collar male, Oleanna elicits anger and befuddlement (at least in this viewer), but for all the wrong reasons.
Here comes “Edmond,” originally penned for the Chicago stage in the early ’80s, adapted for the screen by Mamet and directed by Stuart Gordon (whose “Re-Animator” taught us that even disembodied heads have feelings). “Edmond” is another of Mamet’s white, urban, misogynistic male nightmares, but, unlike “Oleanna” (which Mamet himself directed), it is saved from itself thanks to Gordon’s appropriately playful direction and William H. Macy’s lead performance. Instead of sales offices and academic chambers, we’re now trolling through a nighttime labyrinth of crime-ridden streets, alleyways, and strip clubs–it’s “After Hours,” Mamet style.
Deeply frustrated city mouse, Edmond Burke (Macy), hates his wife, his job, and desperately wants to get laid. One night, after a fortuneteller tells him his life has gone way off track, he bolts from his marriage. At a local drinking hole, a fellow boozer (Joe Mantegna), sympathizing with Edmond, directs to him a gentleman’s club where he might relieve himself. In Edmond, the real victims of sexual predation aren’t the whores and strippers so much as their decent, frugal-minded johns. Edmond is constantly overcharged for sexual services–a running (and very funny) joke in the film. If that weren’t bad enough, he also finds himself an easy target for pimps and scam artists–you know, Black People. After a night of getting mugged and ripped off, Edmond snaps. In a scene that demonstrates the best and worst of Mamet’s style, Edmond and Glenna (Julia Stiles), a waitress he’s just slept with, unleash a rant against “niggers” and “faggots”–the former because they’re lazy and criminal, and the latter because they hate women. Theirs is a crude, naked rant, and Mamet sees it through boldly. But just how bold is open to question, for this is a rather generic sort of hate, taking shallow urban stereotypes to task as if they had any real currency with an intelligent audience. This is “Oleanna” territory, and we’re happy to see the noisy, clattery scene end–and in a shower of blood, no less.
Edmond’s odyssey takes him from the urban jungle, where his fears ran rampant, to a penitentiary where he must butt up, so to speak, against all that drove him into his mad delirium. The outside world is wild, immoral, and untrustworthy, even as it shrouds itself in the hypocrisy of law and order. Prison’s bad too, but at least it’s honest about it. “It’s simple,” says Edmond, now shaven-headed, tattooed and mustachioed, the desperate fear in his eyes now replaced by the calm of moral nihilism. The world-class Macy is reason enough to check out “Edmond.” Mamet’s script may not convince as either satire or social commentary, but, in Macy’s hands, poor, pathetic Edmond’s story finds its shocking, darkly funny resonance.
Directed by: Stuart Gordon
Written by: David Mamet
Cast: William H. Macy, Julia Stiles, Mena Suvari, Joe Mantegna, Denise Richards