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Edmond

Reviewed By David Cornelius
Posted 10/05/06 14:26:57

"Dark, cruel, biting, and not entirely on the mark."
3 stars (Just Average)

Edmond Burke is a sad, quiet, simple, lonely, beaten-down man. We know this because he is played by William H. Macy, a man so adept at playing sad, quiet, simple, lonely, beaten-down men that his mere appearance often plays as character shorthand: the William H. Macy Type.

Sometimes those working with Macy will dare to take him out of this type; other times, the project has become so lazy that everyone else relies on Macy to supply whatever he can. In “Edmond,” he is squarely in the middle, playing to his usual type but given the gift of a David Mamet screenplay and Stuart Gordon direction. “Edmond” gives us the William H. Macy Greatest Hits, but it does it well enough that we don’t mind the staleness until the whole thing’s just about to wrap up anyway.

“Edmond” began life in the early 1980s as a play, by Mamet. Thirty-plus years later, it’s finally been transformed into a film, with the directorial assist by Gordon, who long ago worked on the Chicago theater circuit with Mamet before evolving into the legendary master of B-horror thanks to titles like “Re-Animator” and “King of the Ants.” Their reunion (Gordon once directed a stage version of Mamet’s “Sexual Perversity in Chicago”) with “Edmond” then becomes sort of a who’s who of Chicago theater and the Mamet Gang: Macy, Joe Mantegna, George Wendt, Rebecca Pidgeon.

“Edmond” the film looks and feels, then, a bit too much like a play for its own good. Words still feel written, not with the elegant-yet-grandiose flair Mamet usually brings to the screen, but with a stunted rhythm that reveals its source. Every word uttered here screams “written for the stage!” And yet, could this be intentional? “Edmond” has an unsettling dreamlike - nightmarish - quality to it, and Macy’s take on Edmond the man is curiously just off the normal paces of everyday life. In words alone, “Edmond” is a movie that reveals that something just isn’t quite right.

Edmond’s night of horrors begins when he takes a chance on a fortune teller who coolly tells him, “You are not where you belong.” Edmond takes this as a sign to dump his wife (Pidgeon) and flee into the city night in search of… whatever it is he’s been missing his whole life. A run-in with a boorish racist (Mantegna) leaves Edmond desiring a night of sexual fantasy and the freedom that comes with it; the film then becomes a sort of “Eyes Wide Shut” (an unfair comparison, I know, considering the original date of Mamet’s play), wherein Edmond travels from strip club to whorehouse.

Ah, but there is black comedy in “Edmond,” and it is found in the character’s frugality - here is a character who balks at expensive prostitutes, haggles with call girls, and asks a stripper for change of a twenty.

All of this is fascinating but goes nowhere, a flat repetition of the same theme. Edmond wants to get laid, he doesn’t want to pay, lather rinse repeat. It’s only in the interplay between Macy and his cameo co-stars (Denise Richards, Mena Suvari, Bai Ling) that things crackle. It takes a violent run-in with a street thug (Dulé Hill) and, later, a pimp (Lionel Mark Smith) to kick start the more sinister aspects of the story, which finds Edmond devolving into a hateful, bigoted creep who spouts racial slurs and preaches hatred in longwinded monologues.

At this point, “Edmond” turns into a mix of “Falling Down” and “Fight Club” (again, unfair comparisons, I know), with an outpouring of repressed “white man’s rage” hoping to unsettle viewers. Macy’s vulgar tirades are uncomfortable and clumsy, as they’re supposed to be (we’re not meant to cheer Edmond along, after all, but merely watch this pathetic little man fall apart under his own prejudices), but to what end? Where is Edmond’s descent taking us?

To answer this, the story must make a fatal error and eventually leave the confines of this one fateful night. Things happen, and quickly we jump ahead days, weeks, even years to a finale that intends to reveal where Edmond’s choices have taken him. But it’s so far off the mark that it fails to satisfy. As the story of one night gone wrong, “Edmond” has a rhythm to it that, while not every scene works, at least every scene is compelling; taken out of those bounds, and the film becomes a rambling, unfocused tumble.

And so “Edmond” is a failure as a story, but it’s such a provocative and involving failure that it’s worth a peek or two, if only to see how Gordon handles the peculiar pacing of the tale, and how Macy and his co-stars handle the delicate horrors found within. “Edmond” takes its chances and strikes out, but just watching the wide swing is actually worth it.

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