Thursday, November 8, 2007


Dir. Stuart Gordon

Viewed: From the Couch

Sean looks forward to Stuck:

Another happy day in Mamet Land, filled with joyous machismo, racism, misogyny and humiliation. Who would want it any other way? Not I, and certainly not Edmond (played by Mamet regular William H. Macy in certainly his best performance since The Shoveler, or at least outside of a PTA movie), a lost soul who longs for something else besides his empty existence as husband and successful 9-5er. Spurred on by a tarot card reader, who tells him he is not where he belongs, and a deliciously despicable Joe Mantenga, who reinforces some racism in him and tells him he needs to get laid, Edmond ventures out into the after hours of NYC and begins his path to, um, self-discovery?

And so Edmond travels from strip club to brothel looking for a reasonable price for some lovin'; these early scenes show us a very naive Edmond and offer the only real comic relief in a movie that quickly spirals into blood and rage. Edmond's path can be easily looked at as the life of a bad seed from childhood, where Joe Mantanga's father-figure type sends him out into the world looking for the wrong things, to maturity when Edmond does get the sex he's after and reaches the point of no return. I hesitate to give much more of the plot away, it is this point of no return halfway through the movie and the unexpected twists that follow which make for gratifying viewing.

While this work is certainly not Mamet's best, it does feel like the earlier work of a man who's still finding the strength of his voice, in the hands of horror auteur Stuart Gordon, it is a work that resonates even when you're not sure if you're even enjoying the ride and sticks with you after it's done, which is due in large part to an unexpectedly poignant third act. While the original play was written in the 80's, and some of it's themes can come off a slightly dated, it's not much of stretch to see this story taking place at any time, in any big city.

It certainly helps matters that there's wall to wall good performances here. There's a reason Macy and Mantegna show up in every other Mamet scripted movie, his words never sound clearer than coming from these guys. Of course, as a testament to his skills, all the other actors come to work with their A game. It's a blast to see Gordon regulars Jeffrey Combs and George Wendt trading lines with Macy -- Combs is especially effective as an unsympathetic, put-upon flop-house hotel desk clerk. Mena Suvari, Julia Stiles and Bokeem Woodbine are all effective as well. Why Woodbine hasn't been able to break out of B movie status is beyond me. Even when stuck in a futuristic vampire cop movie, he shines. In Edmond, Woodbine shares with Macy the oddly tender final scene of the movie and tries to works out the meaning of it all: do we always get what we deserve? And are we all just one wrong step away from this fate that is beyond our control?



Uh, yeah, Mamet's metaphysics need work.

The movie worked for about forty-five minutes, but that "poignant" third act was for me a ponderous mess, with banalities ("we are shaped by our destinies") mixed with high-school dope-head philosophy ("what if we're the real animals"?) spouted by Edmund Burke (and no, I can't tell you why he is named after the famous Irish conservative critic of the French Revolution) and friends.

Mamet clearly wants to say something about the loss of male authority and power (Mantegna's early speech pretty much sums it up), but he also thinks everyone is controlled by a larger destiny? And is the emasculation felt by all of the straight white men historically contingent, a loss of power in a post-industrial world where all you do is wear a tie and long after young pussy, or is it timeless, as the end seems to suggest? I honestly don't think Mamet has much of interest to say on either subject; his strength is in giving voice to angry white men, not explaining it.

As Edmund works his way through his existential dilemma with the help of a rapist and platitudinous priest, I was longing for the quick pacing (helped by the eclectic original score of Bobby Johnston) and oddball characters that come from all angles in the first half of the movie; however, when Edmund's adventurous evening takes a turn for the worse, so does the movie.

The cast is great, but mostly wasted. I love to see Debi Mazur as much as anyone, but what is the point of casting her as a brothel receptionist, other than to get a few film aficionados to say "hey, there's Debi Mazur - she sure is great"? Fat Ton- er, Joe Mantagna, on the other hand, is perfectly suited to his role, and while I would take the whole Glenngarry crew over Mantagna and Macy, they are fantastic in their monologues. Suvari and Stiles? Eh, whatever.

I imagine how much you enjoy Mamet depends a great deal on how interested you are in his themes. I've never had much interest in the castrated male genre, whether it's existential (Mamet) or visceral (Chuck Palahniuk/Neil LaBute), and tend to find the most interesting questions apply to everyone, not just white men. I think these writers are correct to point to some of the dangers inherent in the rapid loss of power for SWMs, but I'm not too concerned about a coming wave a psycho killers or Edward Norton-led terrorist cells. In the 80s it may have seemed we were heading for a generation of angry young men, but these things have a way of working themselves out; instead of a bunch of Edmunds and American Psychos, all we got were metrosexuals.


Sean isn't very jazzed about Redbelt:

Some might say metrosexuals are the worst threat of all, Paddy. Hey, I'm just glad you're thinking of other viewers. But I guess making someone think about racism, white man's role in urban society and one man finding his place in it is too pithy a subject? A movie has to be about the role the entire male gender plays in the world to be of interest to Padraic? And since when do you need answers given to you in a movie? Aren't the best movies left up to the viewer to decide? Isn't most art created to raise questions, not give answers or in this instance need Mamet to explain why masculinity is his favorite subject? Would you ask David Lynch to explain in his films why he loves his themes so much? Don't a lot of writers and other artists continue to use the same themes because the search is never over? Aren't you being a bit harsh on this movie, Paddy?

Here's a few other questions: Is our generation of urban white males going to be the last to feel the real effects of the masculinity of the 50's and 60's? Is Mamet's oeuvre going to continue to be dated the further we move forward? Or are his movies going to seem more important for being a document of the times, a window? And wasn't that smile at the end killer?

And so here comes the classic Sean, Ah whatever. I've been given a good dose of the impending holiday doldrums. Every day Thanksgiving inches closer the more lethargic and given to ennui I become. Oh, and the title of the movie is Edmond -- not Edmund -- you're correct, we're not dealing with an Irish conservative critic of the French Revolution. I'm sure he wouldn't burden us with dialog about being animals shaped by our own destiny -- dialog I don't mind hearing when it's delivered by David Mamet (even in a lesser work like this one) via W. H. Macy. And I think it's a testament to the material that actors like Debi Mazur will jump at the chance to have the smallest of parts in this movie.

Spoilers below in both of these tubes by the way -- especially the second one which is a homemade version of the pivotal scene (and a none to shabby one at that).


Padraic said...

Sean, I don't really think you understand what I was saying.

You can't just give a cop-out answer like "movies shouldn't answer anything" to excuse a muddled and incoherent movie.

The babble at the end of the movie has nothing to do with the specific idea of racism, or emasculated males, or anything; it's just shit platitudes that you would find in the "sprituality" section of your local Barnes & Noble.

What can I say? It didn't interest me.

Sean said...

The babble at the end of the movie isn't the point. A white homophobic racist ends up bedding down with a black man and enjoying it -- that's the point. He just happens to be casually philosophizing with the guy before they tuck themselves in. It's a great scene. I don't think Mamet's trying to say Edmond is the next Kant -- he's just a guy trying to figure out how he got there.

Would you disagree that this movie is better than the majority of movies that come out in a given year?

Are you pointedly ignoring my questions about the aging of Mamet's work? The play was written in 1982 -- I'm wondering if this has something to do with you not connecting with it.

Sean said...

Also -- why did you put quotes around "movies shouldn't answer anything"? I didn't say that at all. Please stop misquoting me. This isn't the first time I've asked you to do this.

Padraic said...

"And since when do you need answers given to you in a movie? Aren't the best movies left up to the viewer to decide? Isn't most art created to raise questions, not give answers or in this instance need Mamet to explain why masculinity is his favorite subject?"

I think summing this up as "movies shouldn't answer anything" is fine. Maybe I should have said "don't" instead of "shouldn't," but I don't think it is nearly the deal you are making it.

"Would you disagree that this movie is better than the majority of movies that come out in a given year?"

Since I don't see even close to seeing all the movies that come out every year, I can't answer this, but I will say that Edmond was one of the poorer movies I have seen this year.

Sean said...

When you surround a sentence in quotes -- it's been a while since I've been in an English class so I may be wrong about this -- it is implying that you are taking it directly from what was said or written -- not "summing this up". What you wrote was your (wrong) interpretation of what I was trying to say, not a quote. (For the record, a lot of good movies raise questions that don't get answered, is a good summation. Believe it or not, I try to stay away from grand, broad, sweeping, all-encompassing declarations -- however odd that may seem to you.)

At any rate I'll take it that you are pointedly refusing to answer my Mamet longevity question, a much better subject we could have started a conversation about rather than semantics.

Padraic said...

Sorry, I didn't realize this wass an interrogation.

No, I don't think the date mattered.

And the "semantic" game? It was your complaint.

I summarized you as saying: "movies shouldn't answer anything."

And you prefer: "a lot of good movies raise questions that don't get answered, is a good summation."

And we wasted 5 comments on parsing that difference?

I'm not sure why you are afraid of saying anything other than descriptive sentences, and why, as a critic, you feel judgment is some crime, but it isn't as big a deal as you think.

Sean said...

Sorry for trying to start a conversation.

I'm sorry, but if you continue to misuse quotation marks, I'll continue to complain about it.

I'd of course prefer to spend these comments discussing why the movie didn't affect you the same way it did me. I asked a lot of questions in my last response of the post and I wasn't asking them just to hear myself ask them. If you were to ask me a question in one of your posts I would at least refer to it. I don't think that's too much to ask -- or an interrogation. I thought that might be what we're doing here?