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ReelTalk Movie Reviews
A Time To Break Down
by Donald Levit

Talent and success elsewhere must mitigate William H. Macy’s claimed “I’ve been waiting all my life to play that part.” His Edmond Burke sinks along with the whole lead balloon of Edmond, another unimaginatively eponymous film. Can you imagine Rhett or Rick?

Director Stuart Gordon’s movie is the cooperative work of what is in all but official name the repertory group gathered around multiple award-winning playwright, poet, novelist, teacher, scriptwriter, film director David Mamet, who here has adapted his 1982 Obie-winner of the same name. But “a very compact one act play [of] so much richness” ill translates into a hurried almost thirty-location shoot, a logistically plagued one at that.

The compact effect and intimacy distinctive to live performance are dissipated on the screen, relegated to a series of tableaux vivants beaded together merely by Edmond’s disintegrating, or perhaps simply uncovered, character, repeating themselves and off-puttingly hammering the same point. Backed by fleshed-out story and motivation not even minimally broached here, other efforts like Falling Down are more engaging and offer some of the moral ambiguity of felt life.

Devoid of the macabre wit of Gordon’s Lovecraft and Poe adaptations, this one tips its hand early, and often. Stepping out of conservatively suited work at Stearns & Harrington, the supposed “everyman” protagonist is swallowed in the nighttime nightmare that appears to be Midtown pre-Disneyfication sanitizing. Why this particular dark evening of all others in what surely is ingrained routine, is not hinted at, but, his tarot future foretold (by Frances Bay)—“You are not where you belong”—he continues home and passionlessly tells the wife (Mamet’s current spouse, Rebecca Pidgeon) that she does not appeal to him sexually, he has not loved her for years, and he is leaving.

Walk out he does, or is thrown out, into an upscale bar where a fellow customer (Joe Mantegna) divines that he needs sex and forwards him to gentlemen’s club cabaret Allegro, on Forty-seventh. For a man who shrugs off $220 lamps, he is quite the penny-pincher and haggles so wide-eyed over price and percentage with B-girl Denise Richards that the bouncer stiff-arms him out. Inconceivable that a rescheduled business appointment broke this camel’s back into madness, improbable that a city-dweller could be so naïve, but no background is supplied as Edmond slips over the edge, disappointed by a “health spa” prostitute (Mena Suvari), robbed and beaten by three-card-monte shell gamers (Dule’ Hill and Russell Hornsby), and dissed by a maybe gay flophouse reception clerk (Jeffrey Combs).

With a lethal knuckle-duster-grip blade from a pawn shop, now set to deal with life as it has with him, he has a bloody encounter with a black Murphy-game pimp (Lionel Mark Smith) and soon a sexual encounter with young bar waitress Glenna (Julia Stiles) which turns deadly, and cinematically silly, when she will not philosophize with him. Unlike his eighteenth-century namesake, statesman-writer-philosopher of tolerant moderation Edmund Burke, he has no “philosophy,” no depth, no nothing apart from the actor’s inane grin. Guileless is phrasing it mildly, for with no smarts whatsoever, he tries again, on a subway, is readily apprehended through a coincidence at a storefront church, and will spend the rest of his life with the African-American cellmate (Bokeem Woodbine) who immediately sodomizes him but, over many prison years, will become his lover, soul mate and companion in childish discussions on the nature of life, God and reality.

Homophobia, racism, misogyny are pictured -- and self-hatred, for those who might care -- but so disassociated from all except a vague convenient modern malaise which is not developed, anyway, that one marvels at publicity puff about a multi-level “absolutely true good bad guy [with] basis for his hate” and something of him in each audience member. The very real capacity for road-rage chaos undoubtedly does lurk beneath many a mild exterior, but the mere surface of that fact does not constitute a film.

(Released by First Independent Pictures and rated “R” for violence, strong language, and sexual content including nudity and dialogue.)

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