There isn’t anyone quite like David Mamet, the American writer who brought us such films as the steamy 1981 remake of The Postman Always Rings Twice and the groundbreaking 1996 film American Buffalo. More than just a screenwriter, Mamet has brought his characters to life on screen as a director and on stage as a Tony Award-nominated playwright.
This week, as audiences prepare for his latest directorial effort, Redbelt, MM revisits some of the work that has made him the moviemaker we know today.
Together with director Brian De Palma and composer Ennio Morricone, Mamet crafted a confident look into the era of Al Capone (played by Robert De Niro) and the man who tumbled his empire, Eliot Ness (Kevin Costner). Despite a healthy opening weekend box office, the movie wasn’t entirely well-received upon its initial 1987 release. The stylized drama, also featuring Sean Connery who won an Oscar for his portrayal of Chicago beat cop-turned-Untouchable Jim Malone, is more a visual examination of moviemaking than a dialogue-driven one, as is typical of other Mamet movies. In his review, Roger Ebert pointed out that the film “doesn’t have the Mamet touch, the conversational rhythms that carry a meaning beyond words. It also lacks any particular point of view about the material and, in fact, lacks the dynamic tension of many gangster movies written by less talented writers.”
Glengarry Glen Ross
The stage adaptations of this Pulitzer Prize-winning play are countless, but it’s with this 1992 screen version that audiences everywhere learned that all-important real estate motto: Always be closing. The story of two rival Chicago real estate firms was originally meant for the theater so instead of extensive set pieces or flashy editing, this drama concentrates on the spoken word—Mamet’s forte. With actors like Al Pacino, Jack Lemmon, Kevin Spacey (currently starring in a revival of Mamet’s Speed-the-Plow at London’s Old Vic) and Alec Baldwin, it added Academy Award and Golden Globe nominations to its resume.
The Spanish Prisoner
It’s hard to tell which end is up in this 1997 movie, starring Campbell Scott, Steve Martin and Mamet regulars Ricky Jay and Rebecca Pidgeon. As a man with a million-dollar idea, Scott is vulnerable; prey; a Boy Scout. Enter Steve Martin, the suspicious wealthy stranger eager to take Scott’s Joe Ross under his wing. Together the men take the audience on a journey of intrigue that will have you guessing until the very end. Janet Maslin of The New York Times called this film “David Mamet’s craftiest and most satisfying cinematic puzzle.”
State and Main
In 2000’s State and Main, a big movie production sets up shop in the small town of Waterford, Vermont, bringing with it a large crew, actors with big attitude and a cast of Mamet characters. Alec Baldwin, star of the movie-within-a-movie, The Old Mill, draws attention to the set by indulging in the company of young girls while the diva (played by Sarah Jessica Parker) refuses to complete her contractual obligations with a nude scene. To top things off, that old mill that is supposed to be the center of the film no longer exists, making the job of the screenwriter (Philip Seymour Hoffman) that much more difficult—especially when he gets distracted by the friendly local bookstore owner (Rebecca Pidgeon, again). A workaround to the missing mill is devised—but we won’t give away the clever solution.
Jujitsu probably isn’t among the first crafts one associates with David Mamet. His work often focuses on the foils of Western ideals and the consequences of indulging its excesses. Surprisingly though, the master wordsmith is also a master at the ancient Japanese art. Not surprisingly, he once again crafted an engaging tale of a man (Chiwetel Ejiofor) caught between two worlds: His own simple life of honor and hard work and a duplicitous world of scheming and greed.