Edmond: Mamet Play On Screen with William H. Macey

Written by Kate Findley

Stuart Gordons Edmond, adapted by David Mamet from his play of the same name, offers a moving portrait of the lonely journey taken by one desperate man (played by Mamet regular William H. Macey) who can grasp the world only in pieces.

Gordon, who directed Mamets Sexual Perversity in Chicago for the stage, knows how to recreate the energy of a live performance onscreen and how to ground Mamets heightened, often harsh and academic dialogue with accessible emotions.

When a fortune-teller warns Edmond (Macy) you are not where you belong, he decided to drop everything and hit the streets of Los Angeles. After courageously telling his wife (Rebecca Pidgeon) that their marriage is meaningless (or some other clich), the bachelor party quickly turns sour when Edmond realizes that $50 wont buy him a hooker or a place to sleep.

Director of photography Denis Maloney constructs Los Angeles as a drab wasteland, where what goes on inside a strip joint is not nearly as lurid as the neon lights would suggest. The nightlife is disappointing and demoralizing; almost every face and location is cast in sickly parlor, and people on the bus avoid eye contact.

Macys desultory performance adds more weight to the already oppressive atmosphere, but also unexpected humor. Edmund is an uptight worrywart; he cant enjoy a peep show because hes angry at getting ripped off. Lacking street smarts and common sense, he takes it as a personal affront when a shady cards dealer cheats him out of his money.

A combination of bad luck and dumb mistakes sinks Edmond deeper and deeper into the hellhole he has dug for himself, but then he snaps back. His theory that minorities are responsible for all of societys ills unleashes a wave of violence that’s controversial for its graphic content and implications.

Mamet has always been a bold writer, but in this movie, the strong scenes are not just an exercise in shock value, aiming to offend, but offer an unusual perspective on racial hatred. By offering a palpable sense of the fear, loneliness and frustration that leads to such hatred, Mamet and Gordon bring the violence closer to home. This doesnt justify Edmunds racism–in jail with a black cellmate, he discovers that white people arent the only ones who feel cheated by life.

Gordon handles Mamets free-floating inquiries with control, moving between tones without oversimplifying the material. It is rare to see hard-hitting violence, dark humor and lyrical conversations coexist in the same movie as they do here. Particularly memorable is a scene with Julia Stiles as a waitress/aspiring actress who gets more than she bargained for when she goes home with Edmund.

The film deals with common trends in a purposeful way. For instance, a conversation between Edmund and his wife while he in jail has a detached irony that recalls a Jim Jarmusch or Wes Anderson movie, but Gordon adds a poignant mixture of pain and confusion.

Edmond is largely a family affair, where members of the cast and crew share respect for and familiarity with Mamets works. Both Macy and Joe Mantegna (who has a small but crucial scene) have acted in Mamet productions (Wag the Dog and Glengarry Glen Ross), producer Lionel Mark Smith is a long-time friend and frequent collaborator, and Rebecca Pidgeon is Mamets wife. Commitment to the material overcomes the obstacles of limited funding and short shooting schedule.

In addition to Mantegna and Stiles, the other high-profile supporting players include Denise Richards, Mena Suvari and Bai Ling. Edmund only offers a taste of these talented thespians since incorporating them in larger parts would detract from the movies center and intimacy.