Friday 7 November 2008

Edmond (2005)

The Edmond of the title has no other name but he's played by William H Macy and this film revolves around him just as the world revolves around Edmond. However this world has no real connection to him at all: everything just happens around him and all of it is entirely dissatisfying to him. On the way home from yet another dissatisfying day at work he stops at a fortune teller who does a tarot reading and tells him outright: 'You are not where you belong.' She's not wrong.

So he decides to do something about it. He tells his wife that he doesn't love her and isn't attracted to her and he can't live his life any more. He tells her that he's leaving and he's not coming back, and that's what he does. However he has absolutely no idea where he's going or what he's going to do. He starts by going to a bar and soon finds himself in conversation with Joe Mantegna. Mantegna's character doesn't have a name, as most characters in this film don't have names, but he talks and his outspoken racism and vague suggestion sends Edmond on a rollercoaster ride of an evening.

The film unfolds episodically through many little episodes that gradually strip away the polite veneer of Edmond's life and let the soul inside tearing out angrily against the world. There are obvious reference points: the descending spiral of After Hours or Falling Down, with the sort of wide ensemble cast of characters that you might expect Jim Jarmusch to put together. Falling Down is the closest parallel, with Macy's Edmond raging through a day where each step gets worse just like Michael Douglas's D-FENS.

The people Edmond meets are played by a dream cast of character actors that just doesn't quit. After Mantegna comes Denise Richards as a club hooker, Bai Ling as a peepshow girl in a pink wig and Mena Suvari as a whore. By this time, he's got nowhere except coughing up most of his money in cover charges, because whenever he gets inside it's always too much, and then mugged for the rest. He can't even call the cops at Jeffrey Combs's hotel because he doesn't have the quarters needed, so he pawns his wedding ring to George Wendt and buys a knife. When he gets mugged again by pimp Lionel Mark Smith he's ready to snap back and life explodes into an adrenaline high.

This is the mirror point of the movie marked by Edmond meeting the only other character with a name: Glenna, a waitress played by Julia Stiles. Glenna marks the only time something happens the way Edmond wants it too, though naturally it doesn't continue that way for long. She also marks the point of no return: there's no going back once he leaves Glenna. Luckily still to come are Patricia Belcher, Dylan Walsh and Bokeem Woodbine. These names keep coming and they continue past the actors too.

The director is Stuart Gordon, known primarily for his horror movies, not least Re-Animator, which I was lucky enough to see uncut on the big screen a couple of weeks ago with Jeffrey Combs in attendance. I love Re-Animator and From Beyond and even things like Fortress. They're not necessarily great movies but they have something very distinct about them that makes them pleasures to watch and pleasures to return to. I wouldn't have expected Stuart Gordon to make a film like this, adapted by David Mamet from his play, but maybe he was an inspired choice.

Mamet tends towards the impactful: just watch Glengarry Glen Ross for a great example of that, with an A list cast. This has as much impact but in a much more subtle way, infused with humour that Gordon may well have brought with him. It's a dream of a part for William H Macy, who I'm a huge fan of anyway, and given that Macy went to college with Mamet, I'm guessing he wrote it especially for him. I may be wrong there, given that it's also an old play, but it feels right. Macy is simply perfect as the white collar worker nobody would notice under most circumstances but who is unforgettable with the veneer of his life stripped away. Stunning stuff by all involved.

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