redeeming moments

I didn’t like the David Mamet movie Homicide very much. You can read about the movie – and some good criticism – on its Amazon page and I can’t really add much useful, except this:

There are two or three amazing moments in the movie that made feel like I had gotten something for my money, even as the film ended up hard aground on the banks of its own confusion.

One belongs to William H. Macy, sidekick and partner to the central character, played by Joe Mantegna. Throughout the film, Mamet’s language keeps calling attention to itself to the detriment of believing the movie, getting lost in it, but at one point Macy, trying to buck up Mantegna, delivers an incantation that becomes poetry: “We’ll bust this big criminal; we’ll swagger around.”

Another is Mantegna’s: I can’t reproduce the dialog here, but it comes as Mantegna is talking on the phone, and delivers a blistering assessment of the case he’s on and of being a Jew (Jewish identity being the big theme of the movie). Even though Mantegna’s lines set up the weak middle of the movie (the conversion of his loyalty from being a cop first to being a Jew first) by themselves they are another sort of incantation, a ward against the case he doesn’t want but is stuck with.

The third belongs to Mantegna and Macy together, as Macy dies from a gunshot wound: again, the language is inflated, just this side of parody, until Macy – increasingly disconnected from reality – asks Mantegna something like “Do you remember that girl?” and then just…dies. It is abrupt and realistic in that way you imagine death to be, like a car suddenly stopping.

Is this enough to invest in the movie? Probably not, and I feel about Homicide like I felt about Mamet’s House of Games years ago; despite his many defenders, Mamet just isn’t a movie guy. He’s a playwright who uses his main tool – heightened language – to great ends in stage productions, but who can’t give it up when it comes to movies. Still, he’s good enough to make movies that can briefly stop you in your tracks, even as they jump the tracks.

 

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