David Mamet is a behind-the-lens creative force I’ve wanted to talk about for a while. Certain filmmakers are readily identifiable by their work — you know a Woody Allen film as soon as it pops on the screen; the same could be said about Wes Anderson, or P.T. Anderson (excepting Inherent Vice), or Stanley Kubrick, or David Mamet. The difference is that a “Mamet movie” is defined by its screenplay. All Mamet movies were written by him; he directed about half of them.
The most famous Mamet movie is Glengarry Glen Ross [prior post], which because of its dynamite veteran ensemble established itself within the canon of film. If you’ve seen it, you’ll remember a certain way the dialogue is presented, often in logical, forceful statements by characters who are on the brink. You could describe it as “play-like” — a term normally used to express a detrimental aspect of a movie — but not with Mamet. Partially because Mamet movies aren’t strictly play-like, and partially because even to the extent they are, they just work.
The play-like nature of Mamet movies comes as no accident. Nine years before Glengarry Glen Ross was a movie, it was a play. Point being, the play’s not the thing that will bring down a Mamet movie.
Which brings me to Edmond (2005), a much lesser-known Mamet movie, but one better than Glengarry Glen Ross. Edmond stars one of Mamet’s most apt stars, William H. Macy. The movie received a lot of negative reviews, which you know from my last post means not a whit to me. Stephen Holden of the Times (SPOILER ALERT alert on the link; Holden gives away too much]:
The play, with its incendiary language and its merciless portrait of a 47-year-old nebbish who embraces his own worst nightmares of racial and sexual subjugation, is really a surreal spiritual fable that riffs on a notion voiced by Edmond that every fear hides a wish. Mr. Mamet shows no interest in offering a tidy psychological explanation for Edmond’s behavior. Hurled at you like a knife, the movie is as reasonable as a panic attack.
Holden ends his review with one of the best recommendations you can give a film:
You may love “Edmond” or hate it, but you will never forget it.
Full disclosure: I missed the first 20 minutes or so of Edmond. But what I saw I loved — a thrilling personal journey through a gritty urban landscape. Highly recommended, and a good test to see if you like the Mamet style.
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A couple more notes on David Mamet. He wrote The Verdict (1982, Paul Newman) and The Untouchables (1987, Kevin Costner, Sean Connery, Robert De Niro). I mention it because these films are at least as well known as Glengarry Glen Ross, but they should not at all be thought of as Mamet movies. Their style is completely different; even the dialogue is unrecognizable as Mamet. This is likely due in large part to the fact that Mamet based these screenplays on prior material.
At some point I’ll highlight other Mamet favorites of mine — quintessentially Mamet movies as Oleanna, The Spanish Prisoner, and House of Games. But before I get to those, expect a post on the Mamet movie that isn’t.