One of playwright David Mamet's favorite and most recurrent themes is that of masculinity; from "Glengarry Glen Ross" to "American Buffalo" to "Oleanna" and beyond, Mamet plumbs the depths of the male psyche, probing, twisting and digging to uncover what drives men forward, what motivates them, what frightens them and often, what undoes them. Pay no attention to First Independent's oddly shrill attempts to sell this crackling character study as "this year's must-see thriller" or as "wickedly sexy" – it's blunt, brutal and one of 2006's best films, but it's far from standard thriller fare.
A lesser known, but by no means any less pungent Mamet work from the early Eighties, Edmond, is perhaps as close-to-the-bone as Mamet can get (which is saying something) – a deceptively simple tale of a man who is told "you are not where you belong" and decides to embark on a life-altering odyssey of debauchery, murder and madness, Edmond fairly explodes off the screen, riveting your attention and featuring William H. Macy, one of the premier interpreters of Mamet, delivering one of the best performances of his career.
Edmond Burke (Macy) leaves his job at Stearns & Harrington in New York City late one evening, inexplicably pausing at a curio shop on the way. A mysterious woman tells his fortune, explaining that he is "not where (he) belongs." This simple utterance causes Edmond to go home, leave his wife (Rebecca Pidgeon) and descend into the hellish depths of Manhattan's underbelly, visiting high-class whorehouses, tussling with street hustlers and picking up unsuspecting waitresses. I hesitate to divulge any more of the plot, as much of Edmond's visceral impact comes in not knowing what lies around the next corner. I will say that Mamet, who adapted his play for the screen, and director Stuart Gordon (yes, Mr. Re-Animator himself; look for a quick cameo from Jeffrey Combs) build a relentless, taut and ultimately haunting ode to the fear which drives us and the hate that consumes us.
While Macy is unquestionably the star of the show here, the supporting cast – an astonishing array of terrific actors – is no slouch either; aside from Pidgeon, Gordon also elicits note-perfect performances from Joe Mantegna, George Wendt, Bokeem Woodbine, Julia Stiles, Dylan Walsh, Denise Richards, Ling Bai, Debi Mazar, Lionel Mark Smith and Mena Suvari. At 82 minutes, Edmond is a brief blast of potent filmmaking, so no one commands as much screen time as Macy, but every actor appearing on screen leaves his or her mark. Mamet's works demand actors who can handle the nuances and rapid speed of his words and every actor on screen here is more than up to the task.
Undoubtedly, what remains to be discussed about Edmond is the film's toxic racism, sexism and homophobia – Mamet, never one to shy away from controversy, has crafted a man whose contempt for himself and for society manifests itself in startling, often deeply shocking ways; Edmond is a wounded, savage beast fed up with his fellow man and bent on making himself heard. However, once he's peered into the abyss, he becomes cowed by the possibility of letting go – again, without treading into spoiler territory, I can't specifically discuss what it is that Edmond goes through, but there's a bittersweet yet cynical undercurrent to the climactic scene, which might've played as jaw-dropping two decades ago, is a little less so in this age of go-for-broke cable.
Needless to say, those of delicate sensibilities should refrain from exploring Edmond but those who can appreciate abrasive art will be handsomely rewarded with this exceptionally compelling adaptation of one of America's most vital creative minds. The DVD
Despite its low-budget origins, Edmond looks really solid – this 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer sparkles, particularly given that 90 percent of the film unfolds in the most dimly lit corners of New York City. Edge enhancement is minimal and there is no visible print damage to mar Denis Mahoney's grimly evocative images. The Audio:
As one would expect a film based upon a stage play, Edmond is extremely talky, so the Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack doesn't get much of a workout. The spare score fills in the margins and there are no instances of distortion, drop-out or unintelligibility. I had to crank the volume slightly during a few sequences, but the optional English subtitles kept me from missing anything significant. The Extras:
Thankfully, Edmond's relatively brief life at the box office didn't translate to a bare-bones disc. A pair of commentaries are included – one with Gordon, producer Duffy Hecht and actor/producer Lionel Mark Smith and one with Mamet – and between the two, everything from adapting the play for film to the long, two decade-plus journey from stage to screen is covered. Both tracks are essential listening, but preferably after viewing the film; the Gordon/Hecht/Smith track is quite a bit livelier than Mamet's solo effort, but he still imparts interesting tidbits. Six minutes, 41 seconds of deleted scenes are presented in non-anamorphic widescreen, while the 11 minute, nine second "Every Fear Hides a Wish: The Edmond Diary," (mistakenly labeled "Anatomy of a thriller" on the DVD case) is a brief look at the making of the film. The theatrical trailer, as well as a trailer for The Great New Wonderful round out the disc. Final Thoughts:
Blunt, brutal and one of 2006's best films, it's far from standard thriller fare – needless to say, those of delicate sensibilities should refrain from exploring Edmond, but those who can appreciate abrasive art will be handsomely rewarded with this exceptionally compelling adaptation of one of America's most vital creative minds. With its array of supplements and above-average audio/visual presentation, Edmond is a lock for DVD Talk Collector Series.