An act of due homage and genuflection to David Mamet the ’70s–’80s theatrical provocateur (not Mamet the ’90s–’00s screenplay doodler), the filmization of his 1983 one-act play Edmond is a pleasant actor’s spectacle, oldfangled and splenetic and self-conscious. You never have to get involved; like so much of Mamet’s stagecraft, it plays out flashily but at a moral remove, and an audience’s response is kept to variations on freeway rubbernecking. The red-eyed efforts at mugging taboos (racism, misogyny) are more to the point than any ostensible statement the narrative could express.
The titular hero (William H. Macy) is a nondescript businessman who impulsively gets a doomy tarot reading off the street and then essentially drops out of his life and marriage (to Mrs. Mamet, Rebecca Pidgeon, who has one small scene and ka-chings it good). From there, he enters the free-for-all night world of masculine indulgence, but with too little money in his pocket and too little experience. His confrontations are schematic but filled with texture, and the Mametology of the semi-secret fringes finds ground in several familiar bullrings: strip club, bar, whorehouse, one-night-stand flat, pawn shop, back alley. The guest list is an enthused roster of Chicago theater vets, Mamet alumni, and apparent fans, including Joe Mantegna (a philosophical bigot), George Wendt (a knife dealer), Julia Stiles (a luckless waitress), Debi Mazar (a bordello clerk), Lionel Mark Smith (a wallet-snatcher, and a producer on the film), Mena Suvari (a masseuse/whore), Denise Richards (a B-girl), etc. Director Stuart Gordon himself, though more famous for his outrageous Lovecraft adaptations from the mid ’80s, is a longtime Mamet toiler with Chicago’s Organic Theater. Still, despite the hammy cutaways to tarot portents, his enlistment for Edmond seems peculiar—that is, until we reach halftime, when the scenario goes freaky crimson with stage blood and exploding psychosis.
Writing the screenplay, Mamet hasn’t made much effort to update the material; there’s even a three-card monte game. But Macy’s clueless every-schmuck is never less than an entertaining sputter, graduating from dim irritation (“That’s too much!” he whines again and again when he’s told how much sex of various kinds will cost) to racist fury and beyond. It’s a subtle bolero, even if the crack-up’s peak involves an emergence of white-supremacist bloodlust that seems also dated and arbitrary (since most of his problems so far have been with women). Edmond isn’t a message piece but another, lesser chapter in Mamet’s war-chant requiem for the American male’s lost purpose and sense of self. As always, the dialogue has an enthralling, insistent edge to it (Mamet’s repetitive use of the word “yes,” as a response, is the style’s attitude in a nutshell: civil yet cold-blooded, frank yet secretive). As the full-length sorta-satire it has become, Edmond is all sizzle and little meat, a veritable tangent act dropped from Glengarry Glen Ross because it was several marks too silly.