Writer/director David Mamet and co-star William H. Macy have a good time reminiscing on the commentary track that accompanies the Criterion Collection edition of Homicide (1991). This â€œcop movie that didnâ€™t want to be a straight-up cop movie,â€ and started as an adaptation of a novel that was soon abandoned, is the third of the playwrightâ€™s films, following 1987â€™s hard-edged House of Games (also on DVD from Criterion) and the gentler Things Change (1988). Whatever it isâ€”â€œIâ€™m paid to write it, not read it,â€ Mamet growlsâ€”the movie is one of his more compelling, and makes a timely reentrance on the scene, given its relation to the â€œJewish vengeanceâ€ pictures Defiance and Inglourious Basterds.
Those are set during World War II, or, rather, the fact-based Defiance is; Tarantinoâ€™s unspools in the multiplex in his head. Filmed in Baltimore (before the like-named TV show got there), Homicide unfolds in Mamet-land, that semi-realistic place where everyone has a â€œthing,â€ and if your thing collides with someone elseâ€™s thing you better look out. It centers on police detective Bobby Gold (Joe Mantegna, the star of Mametâ€™s prior films, here with a wounded face and manner like slightly bruised fruit), whose â€œthingâ€ is being a stalwart first-through-the-door cop. But the overt racism of black FBI agents trying to take down an elusive drug dealer (Ving Rhames) and the institutional prejudice of the force (Macy is his best friend, a member of the Irish old guard) get him more personally involved in the routine murder of an elderly Jewish candy store ownerâ€”whose past includes running guns for Zionist causes. Goldâ€™s assimilation offends the proprietorâ€™s family and colleagues, who close ranks around him. But he wants to know more about their â€œthing,â€ which draws him into a noir-ish hive of archaic symbols and anti-neo-Nazi activity.
Mamet is a master tease, obliging you to fill in the gaps between his loosely formed plot and rat-tat-tat dialogue, expertly delivered by his Chicago regulars. This was Macyâ€™s first major film role, and heâ€™s an excellent counterpoint to Mantegnaâ€™s sudden attack of self-doubt, brushing off his friendâ€™s â€œyidâ€ concerns as they spiral. Also appearing are numerous other members of Mametâ€™s creative tribe, all duly accounted for in the commentary, including Ricky Jay, the exotic Natalia Nogulich, Mametâ€™s wife Rebecca Pidgeon (poor in most of his films and plays but fine here in a safely small role), his father, and the future Dr. Katz, Professional Therapist, Jonathan Katz. Some of the guys, including Mantegna and Jay, relate their experiences in Mamet-land in a disc featurette.
Though he warns against cinematographers and other designers wanting to be â€œinteresting,â€ I assume that Roger Deakins, the eight-time Oscar nominee best known for his work with the Coen brothers, nudged Mamet toward the more dynamic shooting style of this film, which has several taut action scenes. The leaning-toward-darkness image is clean and stable in this 1.85:1 anamorphically encoded transfer.
In his booklet essay, Stuart Klawans, film critic of The Nation, notes that Mamet the polemicist has become strident in recent years, issuing â€œa number of bluntly worded commentaries accusing virtually all critics of the State of Israel of anti-Semitism (or of self-hatred if theyâ€™re Jews), and of having feeble brains haunted by The Protocols of the Elders of Zion,â€ and asks that viewers separate out Mamet the artist. Briefly noting the controversy kicked up by the film, Mamet concludes in his commentary that the moral of this particular story may beâ€”spoiler alertâ€”is â€œIf youâ€™re a Jewish detective, donâ€™t blow up a model train store.â€ Stick to your fucking thing.
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