A man's descent from upstanding citizen to violent sociopath is traced in "Edmond," cult director Stuart Gordon's screen adaptation of David Mamet's 1982 one-act play. With a screenplay by Mamet himself, pic offers a faithful re-creation of the stage version's two-dozen brief encounters between its eponymous protagonist and an assortment of lowlifes, until the line separating law-abider from the law-breaker becomes irreversibly blurred.
A man’s descent from upstanding citizen to violent sociopath is traced in “Edmond,” cult director Stuart Gordon’s screen adaptation of David Mamet’s 1982 one-act play. With a screenplay by Mamet himself, pic offers a faithful re-creation of the stage version’s two-dozen brief encounters between its eponymous protagonist and an assortment of lowlifes, until the line separating law-abider from the law-breaker becomes irreversibly blurred. But despite agreeably short running time and committed perfs, “Edmond” is rendered inert by its stagy atmosphere and failure to fully mine the depths of its protagonist’s complex psyche. Pic’s pedigree and name cast should ensure numerous fest appearances. Subject matter and aggressively unpleasant tone will keep commercial audiences at bay.
Set mostly over the course of one long night, pic begins with businessman Edmond Burke (William H. Macy) walking home through the streets of an unnamed urban metropolis. On this particular evening, he feels compelled to stop for a consultation with a storefront fortune teller, who tells Edmond, “You are not where you belong” — words that will echo in the character’s mind and inform all of his subsequent actions.
Arriving at home, Edmond enters into a brief argument with his wife (Mamet’s own wife, Rebecca Pidgeon) about a broken lamp, tells her he’s never loved her and leaves.
A subsequent encounter with a stranger (Joe Mantegna) in a bar seems to crystallize all that has been subconsciously gnawing at Edmond. As the stranger prattles on about how “niggers” have it easy because “there are certain responsibilities they’ve never accepted,” Edmond realizes he feels emasculated and hidebound by his comfortable (and very white) upper-middle-class existence.
But as he soon finds, resolving to indulge in life’s lurid pleasures is easier said than done: As he journeys through a series of back-alley peep-shows and “leisure clubs,” he keeps balking at the price tags on the human merchandise. “It’s too much” becomes his constant refrain. Yet, before the night is over, he will have committed murder.
In its portrayal of ordinary madness and rage against the societal machine, “Edmond” carries echoes of everything from “American Psycho” to “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde,” and there can be no denying that longtime Mamet associate Macy is perfectly cast as the meek everyman coming to terms with his inner aggressor. It’s an emotionally (and, at one point, literally) naked performance.
The problem is that, too often, we don’t fully understand what motivates Edmond, and many of Mamet’s efforts toward explanation — that life is one big shell game, that we’re all latent racists at heart — feel like specious armchair philosophizing. As a result, the film’s orgy of unpleasantness comes to seem largely a provocation without context.
A veteran stage director who helmed the original production of Mamet’s “Sexual Perversity in Chicago,” Gordon is better known these days for his film work, including the diabolical H.P. Lovcraft adaptation “Re-Animator” (1985) and the lovely children’s musical “The Wonderful Ice Cream Suit” (1998). In “Edmond,” he creates a couple of genuinely tense, unnerving sequences — the best of which is a long conversation, shot mostly with a handheld camera, between Edmond and the comely young waitress (Julia Stiles) who ill-advisedly invites him back to her apartment. As in nearly all of the films that Mamet has himself directed based on his own work, however, the airlessness of the material, coupled with the repetitive drone of the syncopated dialogue, tries the patience of all but a select minority of viewers.
Shot quickly on a tight schedule, pic doesn’t conceal its low budget as craftily as earlier Gordon pics, with Denis Maloney’s gauzy, overly diffuse lighting a particular distraction.