You need two things to mount an adaptation of a David Mamet play. First, hire actors who understand the erratic pulse and stop-start rhythms of the writer’s dialogue (“They...” “They have no bounds!” “There’s nothing to...” “Yes!” “To bound you but your soul.” “Yes!”). Arguably, no one gets Mamet better than William H. Macy, which makes him the logical choice to interpret one of the theater legend’s more odious creations: Edmond Burke, repressed everyman and closet racist. After watching Macy negotiate Edmond’s slow descent into violence, savoring each pause and manic verbal burst, it’s hard not to think of the actor as the perfect fit. And director Stuart Gordon has wisely stacked the supporting cast with fellow Mamet veterans—Joe Mantegna, Julia Stiles, Rebecca Pidgeon—all of whom handle the piece’s cadences like seasoned Chi-town pros.
Alas, you also require a filmmaker who can open up the material for the screen, and here’s where this particular attempt regrettably falls short. Gordon, best known for the horror-comedy Re-Animator (1985), has Mamet’s own screenplay to fall back on, yet the director’s visualization never progresses past a static, tin-pan luridness. Macy’s bravura performance is enough to propel the story to its ironic, sick-joke finish; with a stronger hand behind the camera, Edmond could have been a masterpiece. (Opens Fri; Quad.) — David Fear