When this film first opened in Manhattan, its run was so short that, by the time I read about it, it was gone. So it was with considerable delight when I discovered the film had returned, this time to Brooklyn, last week.
Edmond seemed to have everything going for it: a script by David Mamet, based on his 1982 play of the same name; starring the incomparable William H. Macy, always marvelous but especially so in Wayne Cramer’s wonderful 2003 film The Cooler; and director Stuart Gordon, who did HP Lovecraft proud with his adaptations of Re-Animator and From Beyond. On the surface, this film seemed like a winner.
Therein lies the problem: Edmond is all surface.
Edmond is the same character at the end of the film as he is at the beginning — but it’s not Macy’s fault. The way the story is written, we don’t know if the racial epithets Edmond spews are a sudden eruption or part of his daily routine, whether he’s at the tail end of a journey toward violence or whether it’s a destination he’s inhabited for some time. It’s not a one-note performance but a one-note character, devoid of any sense of what, if anything, has been lost. Just as Gordon’s direction plods from one scene to the next, Edmond is a dead man walking from the first shot to the last (where he becomes a dead man lying down). Because we are not permitted to experience his fall, but rather just follow his somnambulistic walk on the wild side, there is no tragedy. We, like Edmond, feel nothing.
Unlike Cape Fear‘s Max Cady, who promised, “You’re gonna learn about loss,” Edmond offers no such lesson. To paraphrase Dorothy Parker’s famous obvservation, the film runs the gamut of emotions from A to B.
Similarly, a litany of usually fine actors are put through their paces so quickly and without distinction that often they’re gone from the screen by the time we realize who they were: Jeffrey Combs (Re-Animator), Dule Hill (fine here in a role that’s about as far from The West Wing‘s Charlie as he can get), Joe Mantegna (always amazing, but especially so as Dean Martin in The Rat Pack), Denise Richards (the Charlie Sheen-Denise Richards divorce), Julia Stiles (so memorable in Mamet’s State and Main), Mena Suvari (the American Beauty herself), Rebecca Pidgeon (also fine State and Main — and married to Mr. Mamet), and Debi Mazar (not used nearly enough in Entourage). Despite all this thespian firepower, the only onscreen chemistry occurs in the scene between Macy and Stiles in her character’s apartment, when, for a fleeting moment, it seems as if she and Edmond might have found in each other a twisted kindred spirit. Alas, even that spark is extinguished before it can ignite anything else.
A gentleman, a few rows ahead of us, served as spokesman for the sparse audience when the film faded out and the lights came up. “That’s it?” he said. Indeed.