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).