Monday, January 25, 2010

Film Review: HOMICIDE (1991, David Mamet)

Stars: 5 of 5.
Running Time: 102 minutes.
Notable Cast or Crew: Joe Mantegna, Bill Macy, Ving Rhames, Rebecca Pidgeon, Ricky Jay.
Tag-line: "Powerful. Provacative. Controversial."
Best one-liner: "Don't die with a lie on your lips, homie."

As I watched HOMICIDE, I couldn't help but keep thinking of an exchange from Sergio Leone's FOR A FEW DOLLARS MORE: "It's a small world," remarks our steely hero, upon encountering an old nemesis. His enemy retorts, hissing- "Yesss... and very, very bad." HOMICIDE's world is nasty, brutish, short, and enveloped by grimy, 1950's-style municipal architecture. The station house is full of the same working class griping that characterized GLENGARRY GLEN ROSS: the job, the job, always about the job. Life is the job. Has the job changed or have the times changed? Fuck the job. Don't tell me how to do my job. It's Mamet doing what Mamet does best: Repetition. Con games. Insults. Sexualized insults. Racialized insults. Joe Mantegna is the eye of this storm. The film whirls around him, and as he spreads his sincerity too thin, he begins to whirl as well. (He also makes disquietingly frequent use of the exclamation, "Yo!," but I guess it was 1991, so it's okay.)

Bill Macy is total hardass with a mean 'stache and a meaner shotgun. The man is no milquetoast, and everyone besides Mamet needs to relearn that fact. He makes observations like "Hey, you're better than an aquarium, you know that? There's somethin' happenin' with you every minute!" and dispenses aphorisms like "Let me tell ya somethin' the old whore said- when ya start comin' with the customers, it's time to quit."

God bless you, Bill Macy. I'm still waiting for you to be enshrined as a national treasure.

Now HOMICIDE is about returning to one's roots- or at least what you THINK your roots should be. Or maybe what someone else thinks your roots should be. Clearly there is no masturbatory feelgoodery at the end of this line- the embracing of the mother culture leads only to manipulation and chaos.

Or maybe chaos just would have happened anyway. You're looking for easy answers? The answers are easy- just assume that everyone's a piece of shit, and then go from there. Five stars.

-Sean Gill


J.D. said...

Macy is always at his best on a Mamet film. Only Paul Thomas Anderson seems to get as great a performance out of the guy.

HOMICIDE is certainly an underappreciated gem from Mamet's career but watching the Criterion edition recently allowed me to rediscover this one and I really quite enjoyed it. As you point out, the film doesn't offer any easy answers and makes you think long and hard about what happened to Bobby Gold after the end credits roll.

Sean Gill said...

I had rented this years ago on VHS, and hoped that it would hold up-(I had previously seen the Rhames/Mantegna nighttime scene in murky full-frame, covered with tracking lines.)- clearly seeing it in the sparkling Criterion format only raised it in my esteem. Really one of Mamet's best.