Mamet, above all, is a writer. Hes only directed a handful
of his screenplays but its easy to tell which ones due to
his distinctive direction. House of Games and The Spanish
Prisoner, while brilliant and engaging, can come off as absurdly
dry. As a writer, he feels that the screenplay is the center of
the piece with all other elements of the film or play support
that center. It explains why his actors merely recount the lines
without feeling. Its a good theory but restricts actors
from interesting performances. His latest movie, State and
Main, is an Altman-esque view of the chaos of a film set and
manages to avoid the typical dry style.
The film crew
for The Old Mill has just been kicked out of the New Hampshire
town where they began filming. Theyve arrived in Waterford,
Vermont small town America. Director Walt Price (William
H. Macy) is feeling the heat from the costs of the movie that
are rising as the production keeps going.
(Alec Baldwin, a Mamet favorite) is the resident big Hollywood
star with a fondness for bourbon and milk and underage girls.
Claire Wellesley (Sarah Jessica Parker) is the resident starlet.
Claire doesnt want to bare her breasts for a scene yet she
can scarcely keep her clothes on around certain members of the
crew. Its nice to see Sarah Jessica Parker in something
besides Sex and the City but she seems to be playing a
stock character from the show that Carrie Bradshaw would dismiss.
Joseph Turner White (Philip Seymour Hoffman, who must have a bet
going with Helen Hunt about who can be in more movies this year)
is the most sympathetic character in the film. Hes the artist
searching for purity in such a corrupt business. How else would
Mamet the writer characterize him?
(Julia Stiles) and her father Jack Taylor (Ricky Jay, who somewhere
down the line managed to assure himself small roles in all Paul
Thomas Anderson and David Mamet films) run the local diner. Stiles
is a resident of a lot of current teen movies but after her performance
as Ophelia in the Ethan Hawke Hamlet, she is certainly one to
watch for the future. Carla notices Barrengers eccentric
tastes and becomes the potential downfall of the movie crew.
A car accident
involving Barrangers two weaknesses bourbon and underage
girls - is cause for the final confrontation of the film. Aspiring
politician Doug Mackenzie sees this as the perfect opportunity
to get attention and extract revenge on the filmmakers for stealing
his fiancée and cheating the town out of its due for the
use of their property.
White is at
the epicenter of the conflict in this town. He is the person who
steals away Doug MacKenzies (Clark Gregg) fiancée,
fueling Dougs hatred of the film crew. He is also the only
witness to the car crash. He is the one confronted with the most
interesting choice of the film. He could represent Mamets
alter ego, as he is the only one in the film concerned with purity
and ends up with the charming local owner of the bookstore, Ann
Taylor (Rebecca Pidgeon, Mamets wife).
At times its
a surprisingly sweet and romantic comedy for a man who is solely
responsible for the introduction of the word fuck into contemporary
American theater. At other times, it seems like diluted Mamet.
It doesnt cast any new light on the familiar theme of Hollywood
corruption. We have movie stars with big egos, the director who
is so self involved that he wont let a crewman go home to
his wife who is giving birth, the ruthless movie producer (David
Paymer who is the most Mamet-esque element of the film), and the
only moral fiber in the movie is present in the all-important
writer and his lovely girlfriend.
hints of political undertones throughout the film. These elements
dont add much to the film, however, and prove to be as trite
as the commentary on Hollywood with greedy politicians, shameless
manipulation of people and property through shady side dealings.
is enjoyable, especially for Mamet fans, but doesnt stand
out among his other work.