American Buffalo: David Mamet’s Play OnScreen with Dustin Hoffman in the Al Pacino Role

In American Buffalo, Dustin Hoffman grabbed the lead role from Al Pacino, who did it brilliantly on stage, but for some reason couldn’t commit to the film version, adapted by Pulitzer Prize winning David Mamet from his 1975 play.

Set in a Rhode Island junk store, Hoffman and Dennis Franz (TV’s N.Y.P.D. Blues) play Teach and Don (respectively), two junk store flunkies, who bicker themselves out of a plot to swipe what they believe is a customer’s valuable coin collection.

More of a character study, “American Buffalo” lacks even the rudimentary plot for a 90-minute picture. Don has a fatherly view toward Bobby, a teen he employs to run his errands. His assignment for Bobby is to watch a customer to whom Don sold a valuable coin (hence the title); Don now plans to take revenge by robbing the customer’s home.

Don’s crime partner, Teach, is another loser who pretends to be savvy, as far as psychology and feelings are concerned, but, ultimately, reveals his true nature as treacherous and untrustworthy.

For a while, suspense is built into the tale while Don and Teach await Bobby’s return to the shop. But Teach’s badgering of Don causes tension between Don and Bobby, who becomes the target and object of both men in a ferocious power struggle.

With the notable exception of Glengarry Glen Rose, Mamet’s work has been more impressive on stage; his notoriously nasty, cynical dialogue is highly theatrical.

The young director Michael Corrente reportedly won Mamet’s blessing after the latter saw his feature debut, Federal Hill, a Providence-based, Scorsese-like saga (“Mean Streets”) that traveled last year’s film festivals road.

American Buffalo co-stars Sean Nelson, who made such a strong impression in the Sundance Festival hit “Fresh,” in the pivotal role of Bobby, a gopher whom Franz treats like a son, to the utmost dismay of Hoffman who’s intent on destroying their relationship.

The film is still theatrical in sensibility and execution: With only three characters, the story is limited to one-set, Don Dubrow’s junk shop. Mamet and Corrente have declined to open up the play for fear of losing its dramatic and emotional intensity, but end result is a claustrophobic work, lacking the emotional payoff that often comes along with such adaptations.

Commercial Appeal

Released in 1995, “American Buffallo” performed very modestly at the box-office, grossing $640,843.

Credits

Goldwyn

Running Time: 88 minutes

Director: Michael Corrente

Producers: John Sloss (exec.) and Gregory Mosher

Script: David Mamet

Camera: Richard Crudo

Editing: Kate Sanford

Music: Thomas Newman

Production Design: Daniel Talpers

Costume Design: Deborah Newhall

Cast

Teach (Dustin Hoffman)

Don (Dennis Franz)

Bobby (Sean Nelson)