Crimson Quill’s Appraisal #554
Number of Views: Two
Release Date: August 31, 2005 (Venice Film Festival)
Sub-Genre: Psychological Thriller
Country of Origin: United States
Running Time: 82 minutes
Director: Stuart Gordon
Producers: Chris Hanley, Molly Hassell, Duffy Hecht, Stuart Gordon, Roger Kass, Mary McCann, Kevin Ragsdale, Ryan R. Johnson
Screenplay: David Mamet
Based on a novel by David Mamet
Special Effects: Rocky Faulkner, Michael Mosher
Cinematography: Denis Maloney
Score: Bobby Johnston
Editing: Andy Horvitch
Studios: Muse Productions, Tartan Films, Code Entertainment, Werner Films, 120dB Films, Pretty Dangerous Films, The Hecht Company
Distributor: First Independent Pictures
Stars: William H. Macy, Rebecca Pidgeon, Joe Mantegna, Mena Suvari, Denise Richards, Bokeem Woodbine, Julia Stiles, Frances Bay, Bai Ling, Jeffrey Combs, George Wendt, Dylan Walsh, Patricia Belcher, Lionel Mark Smith
Suggested Audio Candy:
Basement Jaxx Where’s Your Head At?
One thing in life that I attempt not to do is actively piss off anybody I don’t know from Adam. Indeed should I get on your nerves then, chances are, I consider you a good friend. As for unknown quantities, I prefer to let them go about their business unperturbed. After all, who knows what sort of shit they have going on in their lives or what rage is pent-up within them? It is all too easy to make presumptions based on appearance and this kind of ignorance can have severe ramifications when said presumptions are proved wrong. It’s the age-old problem of judging a book by its cover and, if there’s one thing in life I’ve learned, it is never to do that. All too often we see an interview with a neighbor after a seemingly ordinary person flips out and embarks on a killing spree and hear the words “he just didn’t look like the type” remarked. So what is the type then? I prefer not to be too inquisitive and go searching for the answer to that particular question.
“Behind every fear is a wish.”
Take Edmond Burke for example. On the surface he appears like any other 47-year-old white-collar businessman and of precious little threat to anyone other than himself. He’s pretty much any fraudster or mugger’s wet dream, a spineless douche just begging to be exploited and unlikely to be able to offer any resistance whatsoever should things come to blows. Indeed, should you be looking to make a quick ten bucks, then Edmond would be the ideal person to challenge to an arm wrestle as, chances are, you could psyche him out before he’d even taken his seat. However, looks can be mighty deceiving. You see, a man is never more dangerous than when he has nothing whatsoever left to lose and he fits that particular bill rather snugly.
Stuart Gordon has carved out a successful career in horror. Traditionally inspired by the likes of H.P. Lovecraft, here he opts to elucidate the words of one of the greatest literary minds in modern history, New York playwright David Mamet. Perhaps the most successful translation of his work came in 1992 when James Foley brilliantly adapted his Pulitzer and Tony-prize winning play Glengarry Glen Ross for the silver screen. Here Gordon tackles Mamet’s one-act 1982 play of the same title and, while his versatility as a filmmaker has never been in question, it is refreshing to see him move so far from his comfort zone. Edmond most closely echoes Joel Schumacher’s Falling Down and chronicles the spiralling events of a single night much like Martin Scorsese’s magnificent 1985 black comedy After Hours. Moreover, it makes for a fascinating and thought-provoking character study.
Rich Ragsdale Atlantic Leisure Club
Our main protagonist Edmond (a perfectly cast William H. Macy) has been married to the same woman, working in the same soul-destroying job, walking the same pre-destined course and practising the same ideology for years now and feels sedated and trapped. On his way home from work one evening he decides to pay a visit to a fortune-teller and, twelve death-themed Tarot cards in succession later, is informed that he is not where he belongs. Taking this literally, he stomps off home to cut ties with his wife (Rebecca Pidgeon) in no uncertain terms, blaming her for emasculating him and making it crystal clear to her that she no longer stimulates him either intellectually or sexually, before heading off into the night, much to her disgust.
On his travels, he stops off at a bar to drown his sorrows and here he meets a fellow patron (the ever-brilliant Joe Mantegna) and pours out his woes over a drink. To his surprise, the openly bigoted man sympathizes with his plight and encourages further affirmative action. This is all the green light Edmond needs to head off in search of his epiphany.
Given that his testicles have spent years inside his wife’s jewellery box, seedy locales offer just the shot in the arm that Edmond desperately needs. These include a local gentleman’s bar, peep show and high-class bordello and two things are consistent with all of these establishments: deceit and greed. Hidden charges and false advertising leave him exasperated and things only get worse as he enters into a game of fixed three-card Monte with a pair of street hustlers and ends up beaten in a back alley and relinquished of his wallet. Edmond is starting to feel all his prejudice and contempt bubbling to the surface and pawns his wedding ring at a pawn shop in exchange for a combat knife in flat refusal to be a victim any longer.
This is particularly bad news for the shady pimp (Lionel Mark Smith) who offers to find him a “clean girl” and is left coughing up blood and shattered teeth for his insolence. Suddenly all the pent-up vitriol, racism, homophobia, atheism, and furious anger explodes from within him and his monotonous white middle-class existence is a thing of the past.
After being galvanized into taking action, he is feeling euphoric and wishes to share this with the first captive audience available. This happens to be cocktail waitress Glenna (Julia Stiles) and she finds his new-found straight talking swagger quite the aphrodisiac, agreeing to take him back to her apartment for a round of sweaty coitus as reward for his endeavor. She is perhaps the most critical pawn in his game and the only other character in Gordon’s film to be gifted a name in the credits other than Whore, B-Girl, Pimp, Peep Show Girl etc. This is wholly intentional as she is pivotal to his journey and delivers him to the point of no return, unwittingly I might add. Stiles is simply superb in a small but significant role. At first intoxicated by his enthusiasm and in agreement of many of his gripes against society, she swiftly becomes fearful of his erratic behavior and you can really feel her increasing discomfort as she attempts not to rile this beast further, particularly given that he is waving a lethal weapon in her pretty little face.
The security of the mundane existence he has left behind is now nowhere to be seen and the closing act delivers Edmond to the place that he belongs and truly feels safe. Made to pay for his mistakes in ways that abase his manhood, he somehow finds comfort in this and finally locates his absolution. The ending is wonderfully ironic and will likely stay with you long after the credits have rolled as Edmond’s pilgrimage has been in search of acceptance and he ultimately finds it in the most unexpected place. For his entire adult life, he has struggled to fit in, and certain folk just aren’t cut out for society and the harsh treatment it dishes out unapologetically. The screenplay, adapted by Mamet himself, is sharper than broken glass and moments of extreme prejudice may well lodge in your throats in the same manner, should you be of a more sensitive or easily offended nature. However, his actions aren’t being endorsed, purely exposed for what they are – the culmination of years of bottled anger and despair.
There are a number of cameos by recognizable faces throughout including Denise Richards, Mena Suvari, George Wendt and a wonderfully smarmy blink-and-you’ll-miss-it turn from Gordon regular Jeffrey Combs as a particularly inhospitable sandwich munching desk clerk, but this is undoubtedly Macy’s film through and through. He is pitch-perfect as Edmond Burke, smiling in all the wrong places, awkward and bumbling, increasingly embittered and stroppy, and never less than mesmerizing throughout. Edmond is not a film for everyone and some may find it a pointless exercise and question its meanness of spirit. However, for anyone fascinated with the human mind and what makes it tick, there are few better equipped spokespeople than Mamet and few hands quite as deft as Gordon’s at bringing such verse to life. One thing is for sure: you may be less inclined to judge a book by its cover after spending the evening in the company of Edmond Burke.
Crimson Quill’s Judgement: 8/10
Grue Factor: 2/5
For the Grue-Guzzlers & Pelt-Nuzzlers: Gordon has a history of letting his freaks off their chains at every available opportunity but shows a great deal of restraint here with regards to the atrocities depicted. That said, one particularly ugly scene definitely benefits from not showing the aftermath as our leading man, shirtless and painted in blood, clutching his blade with a wild look in his eyes, tells it own story and leaves the rest for our over-active imaginations. If you’re looking for titillation then you may be left frustrated by Edmond’s refusal to pay the asking price, although his peep show visit does just enough to have us licking the glass divider.
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