Saturday, April 18, 2009

American Buffalo (1996, Michael Corrente)

Being based on a play, not much happens in this movie. Nothing much happens in Mamet's Glengarry Glenn Ross either, except that the details of that desperate scenario are so well articulated that the sole plot point of importance gains mythic resonance. American Buffalo hasn't a single plot point of action, only speculation. Mamet's characteristically prickly dialogue entertains without compelling. There's an inescapable Godot quality and that feels fatal on frame rather than stage.

Hoffman appears to be playing against type as the thuggish Teach until you realize he's been playing smart guys who get tough for years and the only tweak here is that he's street-smart rather than intellectual. Mamet's intellectualism has a way of creeping into Teach once or twice to the betrayal of the audience, first as a throwaway Holocaust reference. I'd like to have believed Hoffman were capable of striking someone, yet when he does Corrente cuts away and there I was watching a movie instead of being in the room with the characters. He's adequate, which for a very good actor is both above average and uninspired.

Franz does much better having to play the straight man to Hoffman's histrionics and consoler to Sean Nelson. He makes the relationships real through his weariness and resigned attitude. Nelson is a good child actor, alternately anxious and cautious. He and Franz are the real stars and the only things keeping the affair from becoming Dustin Hoffman Performs Classic Mamet. Unfortunately neither they nor Corrente can transform the play into a film justified on it's own terms. Passable entertainment, respectably vulgar, toothless even in 1996 when Glengarry quotes hadn't yet seeped into common parlance.

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