Despite the wildly talented cast and screenwriter, this just wore me down. It was well-crafted, but if screams of "F--- you" annoy you after the first few dozen, check out Mamet's other work instead.
Rating: 5 out of 10.
Having read the cast list, it seemed there was no way I would not enjoy this movie: Al Pacino, Kevin Spacey, Ed Harris, Alan Arkin, Jonathan Pryce, the late great Jack Lemmon, and a cameo by Alec Baldwin (which turned out to be perhaps the shining moment in his career). Added to that was the film's strong reputation, and that it was written by David Mamet, who has written and directed some truly underappreciated films (e.g. The Spanish Prisoner, State and Main). Given all of that, and the poor quality of filmmaking (especially scriptwriting) that pervades the mainstream these days, it pains me not to recommend a well-crafted movie like this. It is well-acted and ably directed by James Foley with a nice dark look. But I just didn't enjoy it, and I don't think many of my friends would either.
The setup is great. A group of down-on-their-luck realtors are given an ultimatum by the head office: close some deals or get canned. The movie follows them for about one day as they desperately try to meet the challenge. Alec Baldwin's dressing down of the realtors was the best moment for me--I'd heard enough to know in general terms what was coming, but I had no idea how shocking and effective the scene would be. Of the other actors, all of whom excellently handle their roles, I thought Pacino was the best (in his typical blend of likeability and vulgar volability). Profanity aside, this is a top-notch script, as can be expected from Mamet. You never have to worry about stupid lines in his movies. He threw a few nice curveballs at the end, but by that time my brain was numb...
The profanity-laden tirades just plain wore me down. It takes significant amounts of profanity to get to me (unless I'm watching a movie with someone more sensitive to that, in which case I cringe at every cuss word), but this movie had boatloads. It probably isn't just the swearing, but also the one-note diatribes the characters constantly unleash at each other (most often at the Kevin Spacey character - poor sap). It was just plain unpleasant. I started out the movie caring about the characters a great deal, especially Levene (Lemmon) when the sick-relative-in-hospital subplot is alluded to in one of the movie's more understated aspects, but the characters are stuck in a hopeless situation. Their circumstances change (for the worse, naturally), but they don't grow in any discernible way, which I find disappointing.
You may like this film if you don't mind torrential profanity (to the level of a Spike Lee, uh, Joint) and are a fanatic of the writer, actors, or movies in general. Don't expect too much action, though. This was adapted by Mamet from his own play, so it's pretty much wall-to-wall talking with a few scene changes.
Note: I read Roger Ebert's review of "The Spanish Prisoner" some time back, and he found it humorous that Mamet had written a movie with extremely sharp dialogue that had absolutely no profanity. Now I know why he he found humor in that...
Worth renting? Not for most people.
Worth buying? Not for most people.
Suitable for kids? Not even close.
Director: James Foley
Running Time: 100 minutes
Rated R, undoubtedly for abundant profanity.
Click here for complete details at IMDB.com.
Review Copyright 2003 by Toby Baldwin
Originally written July 13, 2001.
Comments? E-mail Toby!