"I find that I'm..."
"One moment. In regard to your, to your..."
"Oh, oh. You're buying a new house!"
"No, let's get on with it."
"I know h--, believe me, I know how potentially humiliating these....I have no desire to, I have no desire other than to help you, but...I won't even say but. I'll say as I go back..."
"I'm just, I'm just trying..."
"No, it will not do."
"What? What will not do?"
"I'm just...I sit in class, I take notes..."
"Yes, I understand. What I'm trying to tell you is that some, some basic..."
"One moment. Some basic missed communication..."
"I'm doing what I'm told. I bought your book. I read your..."
"No, I understand."
"No, no, I'm doing what I'm told. It's difficult for me. It's difficult..."
"I know lots of the language."
"The language, the things that you say."
"I'm sorry, no. I don't think that that's true."
"It is true."
"It is true. Why..."
"I'll tell you why. You're an incredibly bright girl. You have no problem..."
"...with, no. I'll... Who's kidding whom here? I'll tell you why. I think you're angry."
"Why would I..."
"Wait one moment."
"It is true. I have problems."
"I come from a different social..."
"A different economic..."
"No, when I came to this school, when I came..."
David Mamet is renowned for his deft wordplay, capturing Oscar nominations for The Verdict and Wag The Dog, along with a slew of other awards from various groups and organizations. The above exchange is indicative of how the first act of Oleanna plays, and it affected me like no other movie of recent memory. I'm referring, of course, to the splitting headache it inspired. Perhaps Mamet is an acquired taste. Roger Ebert was wildly amused by the line in Mamet's Heist that goes, "Everybody needs money. That's why they call it money!" It left me, however, scratching my head in confusion. It would seem that whatever characteristics are required in an individual to appreciate such work by Mamet, I am sorely lacking.
David Mamet directed and wrote this adaptation of his play, so presumably this is as untainted a vision as can be obtained. Oleanna, for all intents and purposes, has two actors. William H. Macy reprises his role as an impatient professor who is looking forward to the tenure and new home that are waiting in the wings. On his way to a meeting with his wife and a realtor, the professor is stopped by Carol (Debra Eisenstadt), a student who has recently received somewhat of a dismal grade and seeks to improve her standing in the class. The professor hurredly attempts to teach her some of the fundamental concepts, continually interrupted by phone calls and, annoyingly, Carol herself. The session gets a little tense, but the professor seems to feel as if it ended amicably enough. A short while later, an infinitely more confident Carol announces that she has brought sexual harassment charges against him, threatening his tenure and very livelihood. This leads to more heated exchanges between the two, and the professor's situation becomes increasingly dire with each successive discussion.
I like and respect William H. Macy quite a bit, and I've enjoyed what few other Mamet films I've managed to catch. Oleanna did absolutely nothing for me, though. The delivery of dialogue, particularly in the first half of the film, seems hopelessly stunted and unnatural, despite Macy's experience in the role. This improves greatly in the second half, when Carol reverses the roles in the power struggle, but my interest had wholly disappated by that point. If the first act had been truncated somewhat and delivered in a manner that didn't seem quite so mechanical, I may have vastly different feelings about Oleanna. As it is, though, it took a considerable amount of self-control to not tear the disc out of my player and chuck it out the window after the interminable first fifteen minutes. My frustration with Oleanna, thankfully, did pay off in its final moments. I also made the mistake of watching the film by myself, and this is the sort of movie that would seem to benefit from discussion afterwards. I don't think I have any friends who would be willing to sit through Oleanna in its entirety, though, so I guess that's a moot point.
Video: Oleanna is letterboxed to an aspect ratio of approximately 1.66:1 and is not enhanced for widescreen televisions. The presentation is more than fair, though. The image is consistently sharp and free of any major defects or noticeable print damage. No intrusive grain or compression artifacts could be spotted, though there are a handful of specks of varying sizes scattered throughout. The color palette is limited but looks to be accurate enough. Oleanna doesn't offer the most stunning of presentations, but I'd imagine that this is representative of how the film looked during its theatrical run.
Audio: Though the packaging boasts that a Dolby Digital stereo track is present on this disc, it might as well have been in mono. The film is driven by words and motions, and the dialogue in Oleanna is relegated entirely to the center speaker. I seem to recall some slight panning of footsteps as characters move across the room, but that's the extent of any noticeable stereo activity. The dialogue is crisp and clear, free of any underlying hiss or distortion, and what little music is present appears to be well-represented. Oleanna does not sport the most aggressive, bombastic audio, but it suits the film's needs appropriately.
Supplements: The untitled featurette isn't quite as insubstantial as the majority of those that have become such a mainstay on DVDs. It does incorporate some of the expected elements: a few brief moments of on-set footage, clips from the film, the cast and crew talking about the film's themes, and the like. Still, it seems as if it is more heavily geared towards building interest in Oleanna for those who have yet to see it, and there are few revelations of any sort for those who have already devoted 90 minutes to watching the feature.
Also included is a still gallery of twenty photos, each at a curious five degree angle, along with bios and filmographies for Macy, Eisenstadt, and Mamet. Finally, there is a full-screen trailer, as well as previews for The Spanish Prisoner, American Buffalo, Eye of the Beholder, and Swimming With Sharks.
Conclusion: Perhaps those with a greater familiarity with Mamet's oeuvre will appreciate Oleanna. I am not in that group, and I personally do not feel that this exercise in frustration warrants the time and expense of importing from Canadian retailers.