Directed by David Mamet
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1 anamorphic
Running Time: 101 minutes
Audio: Dolby Digital 3.0 English
MSRP: $ 39.95
Release Date: September 8, 2009
Review Date: August 23, 2009
David Mamet’s Homicide is a continuously surprising film. It’s so contrary to the expected police procedural that you assume it’s going to be that its every detour is a delicious and welcome surprise. Though sometimes those detours are not as felicitously handled as they might have been don’t subtract one iota from the film’s real entertainment value or its inevitable emotional wallop. This is the David Mamet film that is on a par with the writer-director’s great stage vehicles like Glengarry Glen Ross or Speed the Plow.
Expert police negotiator Bobby Gold (Joe Mantegna) finds himself torn between immersive involvement in two cases: a high profile murder case with a lunatic killer (Ving Rhames) who’s managed to outwit the FBI and a seemingly small potatoes murder of an elderly candy shop owner. Though he’s eager to join his explosive partner Tim Sullivan (William H. Macy) on the big case, his superiors have been forced by powerful downtown political factions to keep him on the candy store murder since the victim was Jewish, and the family wants a Jewish detective investigating. Gold is Jewish in name-only allowing "friendly" anti-Semitic remarks from his compatriots and not knowing a single word of either Hebrew or Yiddish. During the course of his investigation, however, the stirrings of his abandoned faith are keenly felt within him, and he begins to question all of the implications his status as a Jew has on the performance of his job.
Writer-director David Mamet never lets the audience suspect that his crime drama is going to turn into a political and emotional journey for his main character until well into this briskly paced and superbly fashioned pseudo-thriller. Bobby’s journey toward recognition and identification of his heritage is quite visceral, so much so that the mystery of the candy store murder, when the solution is inevitably presented to us in the film’s final minutes, is an incidental afterthought. The true mystery uncovered for Bobby involves his feelings of self-worth, his pride in his heritage, and his shame in casting it off for so many years. Between these revelations, Mamet gives the audience the police action they’re expecting: there are gun battles and interrogations and all of the familiar trappings of a conventional crime drama, but it’s tricked up with Mamet’s patented rat-a-tat dialogue and scenes that are concise and bluntly on-point, Only the occasional insertion of a character to give a historical lesson on Judaism or the too-rushed transformation of Bobby into a freedom fighter rings the slightest bit false in the final analysis.
Many of the actors in this piece have a long history of working with David Mamet either on the stage or in previous films (Homicide was Mamet’s third film as a director). Joe Mantegna’s expressive eyes reflect the emotions warring within him better than almost any words Mamet could put into his mouth, and the performance is a brilliant one. William H. Macy gets some wonderful scenes as his kinetic partner who by the end seems disappointed his partner hasn’t fought harder to stay on what appears to be the more important case. J. J. Johnston and Jack Wallace seem born into these cop roles with nary a false step made. Both Natalija Nogulich and Rebecca Pidgeon score as the Jewish women who manage to convince Bobby of elements of his persona he’s sublimated until this case. In smaller parts, Ving Rhames rivets as the unbalanced murderer, and Jordan Lage as the hyper FBI agent makes a strong early impression. Filmed on location in Baltimore, the film has some of the local actors that aren't the equal of the higher billed stars, so some of the mid-level performers keep performance levels erratic..
The film’s theatrical aspect ratio of 1.85:1 is faithfully reproduced in this anamorphically enhanced widescreen transfer. Color initially seems a bit desaturated and flat in the early going, but midway through the film it’s quite strong and effective with good-to-excellent flesh tone levels. Blacks are stunningly deep with very good shadow detail on display, and sharpness throughout is never an issue. The film has been divided into 19 chapters.
The Dolby Digital 3.0 track makes effective use of its soundfield without ambient effects overwhelming the listener. Aeric Jans’ classically-inspired music score lilts effectively through the front soundstage with occasional echoes in the rears.
The audio commentary by David Mamet and William H. Macy was recorded this year, and as the two old friends reminisce about their decades-long working relationship, the film often gets forgotten as they remember early triumphs on stage and screen. Still, it’s a pleasurable track with just enough about the movie’s production to keep one listening until the end.
“Invent Nothing, Deny Nothing” is a 21 ½-minute featurette with interviews with five of the actors from the film, all longtime Mamet collaborators: Joe Mantegna, Jack Wallace, J.J. Johnston, Ricky Jay, and Steven Goldstein. Film clips from Homicide and their other films with Mamet are also shown. The interviews have been recorded in anamorphic widescreen.
The film’s gag reel is presented in nonanamorphic windowbox and runs 6 ¼ minutes.
There are five TV spots which must be viewed as a group running 3 ½ minutes in 4:3.
The enclosed 18-page booklet contains complete cast and crew lists, the chapter listing, and a celebratory essay on Mamet and his wonderful film by movie critic Stuart Klawans.
4/5 (not an average)
A wonderfully original and emotionally engaging dramatic thriller, Homicide offers many surprises and pleasures for both first timers or fans of the film. Criterion has prepared a beautiful transfer of the movie with an adequate set of bonus features that extend one’s appreciation for David Mamet as one of our most underheralded directors.