First Independent Pictures
Cast: William H. Macy, Julia Stiles, Joe Mantegna, Denise Richards, Mena Suvari
Extras: Commentary Tracks, Featurette, Deleted Scenes, Trailer
David Mamet is one of the foremost American playwrights living today. Since the 1970s, his plays have inspired accolades and controversy in equal measures due to their poetic dialogue and often shocking frankness. Director Stuart Gordon's reputation is no where near the same level of distinction, his most famous film to date being the 1985 cult horror-comedy "Re-Animator." Yet, the two have collaborated on a film that bursts with power and social relevance like few others in recent memory. Mamet penned the screen adaptation of his 1982 play, "Edmond," a story of a discontent man on a nightmarish journey of self-discovery through the streets of New York City. The low-budget feature was showcased at a few film festivals and barely received a limited theatrical release in July 2006, but its premiere on DVD is cause for elation for Mamet fans and serious cinephiles who are looking for something meaningful in today's outpouring of Hollywood dreck.
William H. Macy is riveting as Edmond Burke, a nebbishy, white-collar businessman who is clearly dissatisfied with his life. After visiting a fortuneteller who tells him that he is not where he belongs, Burke immediately leaves his wife and sets out to find satisfaction in the crime-infested streets of New York City. Visiting strip clubs, whore-houses, and peep shows, he refuses to pay the high prices they demand for what ultimately is not satisfactory to him. Robbed and beaten by a pair of street hustlers, he stops in a pawn shop and buys a trench knife. Over the course of his dark odyssey, Burke unleashes his pent-up racial prejudices and homicidal tendencies in a growing torrent of madness and a quest for honesty in a world of hypocrisy.
Unfolding in episodic fashion, the movie plays out in a series of two-character scenes that showcase the talents of a remarkable cast. Mena Suvari is effective as a high-class prostitute with a head for business. Lionel Mark Smith turns in a memorable performance as a pimp who attempts to rob Burke only to become the first victim of his rampant hostility. The most unforgettable scene involves Julia Stiles as a waitress and aspiring actress who has a one-night-stand with Burke that ends in unexpected tragedy. Elsewhere, the familiar faces of Joe Mantegna, Denise Richards, Bai Ling, Debi Mazar, George Wendt, Dulé Hill, and Jeffrey Combs round out a stellar ensemble.
The dialogue throughout certainly bears the unmistakable stamp of David Mamet. The movie's sole potential flaw may be the sheer theatricality of the language, which frequently betrays the story's stage roots. However, once viewers buy into the stylized and fable-like premise, the dialogue matches perfectly. The most unsettling aspect of both the film and the original play is the abundance of racial slurs, but it is absolutely vital in understanding the mindset and gradual transition of the main character as he struggles to come to terms with a society that he both loathes and so strongly desires to fit into. The power of the film comes from Burke's philosophical ramblings that reach into the very heart of the viewer. Burke is a deeply dislikeable character, but what makes him the more frightening is how undeniably human he is.
This wrenching production makes its way to DVD courtesy of First Independent Pictures. Presented in anamorphic 1.85:1 widescreen, the picture looks exceptional, especially considering its small budget. Director Gordon makes great use of a full-color palette with neon signs and expressive lighting, and this transfer beautifully renders them in well-saturated tones. Black levels are rich and solid, enhancing the shadows and night-time settings. Flesh tones are natural, and contrast is excellent. There is some minor speckling, but nothing that takes away from the stylish beauty of the cinematography.
Audio is available in both Dolby Digital 5.1 and 2.0 surround tracks. As the dialogue takes center stage, there is not much to say about either track, except that the voices come through naturally, if not spectacularly. Ambience on the 5.1 track is distributed well around the back speakers and enhances the gritty atmosphere. Overall, it's an adequate presentation. Subtitles are offered in English.
Stuart Gordon provides an enjoyable audio commentary with producers Lionel Mark Smith and Duffy Hecht. The trio keeps going for the entire duration with nary a pause, making this a truly informative and easy-going listen. Screenwriter David Mamet provides a separate commentary, though it is a bit of a disappointment. The prospect of hearing such a renowned writer commenting on one of his own works was promising, but his commentary track is surprisingly spotty with several long gaps. When he does speak, it is often to praise the performances (or even his own writing). For greater insight and background information, the director commentary is the way to go.
The 11-minute featurette, "Anatomy of a Thriller," is mostly a montage of behind-the-scenes footage. A few interviews are thrown in, but nothing of great importance is revealed here, and there is no apparent structure to it. In fact, the footage largely comes across as random.
Roughly seven minutes of interesting deleted scenes are included, followed by a trailer, capping off a thrilling release for an obscure gem of a movie.
"Edmond" is the kind of film that could only be made independently. The provocative material, nihilistic mindset of an angry antihero, and ballsy examination of society's dark side come together to create a most unusual thriller that does more than just entertain. It gives audiences something to really think about, an urge to question their own behavior and views of other people. David Mamet's genius as a weaver of words and observer of human interaction is put on full display here, and Stuart Gordon proves himself a strong director who can capture realistic fear just as well as supernatural terror. This is by no means a film for all tastes, but I challenge any serious filmgoer to step into Edmond's shoes and examine the world through his eyes. It may be frightening, but it is a most honest exploration of the human psyche in all of its perverse desire.