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Homicide (1991)
Rated R

Starring: Joe Mantegna, William H. Macy, and Vincent Guastaferro

Rating:
**1/2
out of
*****

David Mamet's early directorial work, including the previously reviewed Oleanna, featured what has become known in some circles as "Mamet-speak". Mamet-speak has the characters spouting lines of dialogue almost on top of one another and, in most cases, repeating information back and forth and asking the same questions repeatedly. It's at once maddening and entertaining. Some have likened it to a form of poetry.

Homicide, Mamet's third film as a director and his ninth as a screenwriter, has the trademark Mamet-speak, his regular actors (William H. Macy, Joe Mantegna, Ricky Jay), and his unusual way of combining familar film stereotypes into something we've never seen before. That makes it a Mamet film through and through. It doesn't not, however, save it from itself.

Bobby Gold (Mantegna) is a Jewish cop who's in the middle of investigating a high profile cop-killer case. Suddenly, he finds himself pulled from that case to look into the murder of a Jewish woman at a candy store. At first, he resists and resents being placed on such a seemingly low-rung case. As he looks into her background, though, he discovers an underground he never knew existed. As a Jew -- though not a particularly devout one -- he begins to feel a personal responsibility to do what he can to assist the Jewish militants he meets in the process of investigating the case. He begins questioning himself and what he's done with his life. His ties to the police force are strained and his bond to his Jewish ancestory become more important to him, even at the risk of betraying his oath as a policeman.

Mamet's story and characters are initially captivating. The dialogue, the performances, and the situations -- particularly a scene in the study of a Jewish doctor -- are gripping and full of potential. However, as the movie progresses and Gold's personal awakening occurs, the film loses control of its momentum and careens off a cliff. The amount of transformation that occurs in such a short period of time is incongruent with what's revealed in the investigation. I just couldn't buy it.

Still, the film is worth seeing if you're a David Mamet fan or a William H. Macy fan (as his performance here is solid, as usual.) Otherwise, this is just a classic case of a film failing to live up to the potential it possessed.

Trivia: William H. Macy will again work with David Mamet in 2004's Spartan, with Val Kilmer and Derek Luke. (Source: The Internet Movie Database)

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