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Homicide
DVD disk
09.07.2009 By: Mathew Plale
Homicide order
Director:
David Mamet

Actors:
Joe Mantegna
William H. Macy
Ricky Jay

Rating:
Movie:
Extras:
Overall:

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WHAT'S IT ABOUT?
A homicide detective (Mantegna) gets mixed up in two cases--one involving a cop-killing drug dealer, the other the murder of an elderly Jewish candy store owner.
IS IT A GOOD MOVIE?
“FBI couldn’t find Joe Louis in a bowl of rice.”

And so the job--to bring in a black drug dealer/cop killer--is assigned to homicide detective Bobby Gold (Joe Mantegna) and his partner Tim Sullivan (William H. Macy). “Piece of cake,” says Sully. It’s never that easy--not in a movie, not in a David Mamet movie.

Enroute to picking up a friend of the dealer, Randolph (Ving Rhames), Gold and Sully stumble upon the murder of an elderly Jewish novelty shop owner. Immediately, the woman’s son requests the case be under Gold, a non-practicing Jew.

A well-off Jewish woman murdered in an all-black neighborhood? Chalk it up to a robbery gone bad. Or an act of anti-Semitism. But either seems too easy, and so you know there is something else going on in the basement. Mamet characteristically shuns a by-the-books procedural and instead crafts 1991’s Homicide as part mystery, part character study, with Gold, who holds a disdain for the Jewish family and, it’s suggested, himself, forced to question his own identity and see himself as more than a cop.

Though it’s not one of his best works, Homicide is textbook Mamet: there is a confidence game that backbones the story and lead characters, primarily male, burst at the seams without warning in the most profane yet collected way.

Interestingly, the best element of the film is not the dialogue which, despite being the sharp-tongued Mamet-speak every male Creative Writing major mimics, fails to be as memorable as anything spoken by Ricky Roma, George Lang, or even Stanley Motss. The real prize from the words comes via the cast, particularly Mantegna and Macy, who have spoken from the Book of Mamet a combined 14 times on film, including four together. They, like Ricky Jay, Jack Wallace, and J.J. Johnston, are masters in Mamet’s deceptive world.

They, not Mamet, are the ones keeping Homicide’s pulse in check when the film falters and appears to overcomplicate itself. I write “appears” because the film is never really overcomplicated, just…jumbled. After it’s over and you know the twists, you’ll want to watch it again to know how it all works. That’s the con.
THE EXTRAS
Audio Commentary featuring writer/director David Mamet and actor William H. Macy: If you’ve heard any of Mamet commentaries (particularly House of Games, also in the Criterion Collection), you’ll know that he and whoever he’s recording with (in this case co-star William H. Macy) provide invaluable insight and analysis of the work. This track, recorded in 2009, is no different, with Mamet doing most of the talking and the duo reminiscing about the production and their early days.

“Invent Nothing, Deny Nothing” (21:27) offers a compilation of interviews with Joe Mantegna (“the leading man”), Steven Goldstein (“the student”), Ricky Jay (“the performer”), and J.J. Johnston & Jack Wallace (“the guys from Chicago”). The five guys discuss the style, language, and trademarks of David Mamet, as well as touching upon their other collaborations with the writer/director in addition to Homicide.

Rounding out the discs are an out-of-place and very rough-looking Gag Reel (6:14) and TV Spots.

Also included with this Criterion Collection DVD is a 16-page booklet with an essay titled “What Are You, Then?” by film critic/author Stuart Klawans.
FINAL DIAGNOSIS
Not one of David Mamet's better works, but still a compelling con game with terrific performances from favorites Joe Mantegna, William H. Macy, and Ricky Jay. The disc is light on features, but what's here (a commentary, interviews) is choice.
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