Originally produced as a one-act play in 1982, David Mamet’s Edmond sends a businessman on a blood-soaked odyssey of sex, violence, and punishment. Written between The Verdict and Glengarry Glen Ross, two considerably stronger pieces, Edmond places Mamet’s familiar themes within a free-flowing narrative that today feels as dated as it is misanthropic. Directed with care (and perhaps a bit too much reverence) by Stuart Gordon, and acted by an exceptionally engaged cast, this adaptation is all the playwright could ask for. That also makes it one of the toughest films of the year to sell to an audience.
The film is first and foremost a vehicle for William H. Macy, who is fully committed to the title character’s downward arc. As Edmond, he plays a stressed but apparently normal businessman who visits a fortune teller when a meeting is rescheduled. Told that he is not where he belongs, Edmond decides to walk out on his wife. He meets a man in a bar (Joe Mantegna) who rails against blacks while delivering a philosophy of life that focuses on sex, power, self-destruction, and religion.
Edmond is thrown out of a “gentlemen’s” club after arguing with a B-girl (Denise Richards) over her fee for oral sex. A peep show where a dancer (Bai Ling) demands more than Edmond is willing to pay proves equally frustrating. At a bordello disguised as a health club, Edmond pays one fee to the matron (Debi Mazar), but balks at the money a prostitute (Mena Suvari) demands.
Mugged after losing a game of three-card monte, Edmond pawns his ring and buys a knife. When a pimp (Lionel Mark Smith) tries to rob him later, Edmond beats him viciously. Adrenalized by the violence, Edmond persuades a waitress named Glenna (Julia Stiles) to let him have sex with her. Unable to persuade her to join him in renouncing the past, he finds another use for the knife. Before long Edmond will be confronting his worst fear: forced sex with a black prison inmate.
Edmond‘s philosophical digressions, spasms of violence, and racist diatribes might work better on stage, where shifting sets and characters who enter and exit from the wings help emphasize the theatricality of the piece. Ironically, Gordon’s realist approach strips the play of its nightmarish qualities, leaving behind a strident, pervasive ugliness, along with glaring plot holes. It might have made more sense to play up the humor in the piece, because Mamet’s relentless attempts to provoke viewers seem pretty childish today.
Cast and credits
Cast: William H. Macy, Jeffrey Combs, Dule’ Hill, Russell Hornsby, Bai Ling, Joe Mantegna, Debi Mazar, Rebecca Pidgeon, Denise Richards, Lionel Mark Smith, Mena Suvari, Marcus Thomas, Jack Wallace, Dylan Walsh, George Wendt, Bokeem Woodbine, Julia Stiles, Frances Bay, Patricia Belcher, Wren T. Brown, Barry Cullison, Vincent Guastaferro, Aldis Hodge, Matt Landers, Michael Saad, Wendy Thompson, Bruce A. Young.
Credits: Directed by Stuart Gordon. Screenplay by David Mamet, based on his play. Produced by Chris Hanley, Molly Hassell, Duffy Hecht, Roger Kass, Mary McCann, Kevin Ragsdale, Stuart Gordon. Executive producers: Al Corley, Bart Rosenblatt, Eugene Musso, Tricia Van Klaveren, Gary Rubin, Steven Hays, Felix Werner, Kathrin Werner, Hamish McAlpine, Samuel Englebardt, Ryan R. Johnson. Director of photography: Denis Maloney. Edited by Andy Horvitch. Original score by Bobby Johnston. Production designer: Alan E. Muraoka. Costume designer: Carol Cutshall. Co-producers: Lionel Mark Smith, Chad Troutwine. A First Independent Pictures presentation of a Muse Production, in association with Tartan Films, Code Entertainment, Werner Film, 120dB Films, Pretty Dangerous Films, Dog Pond Productions, The Hecht Company, Red Hen Productions, and Fully Loaded Pictures.
First Independent Pictures/Color/1.85/Dolby Digital/82 Mins./Rated R