US, 1995, 88 minutes, Colour.
Dustin Hoffman, Dennis Franz, Sean Nelson.
Directed by Michael Corrente.
Considered a landmark play in the 70s, this David Mamet work is a strong verbal onslaught on the underside of the United States, money and greed. Now brought to the screen, it has been `opened up' only a little and still relies on its confined set and its dialogue. This makes it demanding and wearing, especially for those not immediately on the wavelength of the characters. It is a tour-de-force for Dustin Hoffman who sees his character as one of the `everyman' figures of the American stage. He is supported ably by Dennis Franz and Sean Nelson. Filmed theatre.
1. The work of David Mamet in theatre and film? The play as a theatre classic? Mamet and his observations of American society, hard-hitting portrayals? A play of the '70s, transferred to the screen of the '90s?
2. The opening out of the play: the shop, the street, the car? A three-hander in confined spaces?
3. The tone of the film, the tradition of Arthur Miller and American realism? American critique? The shop as a microcosm of America? The force of the musical score?
4. The strength of the screenplay, the dialogue, realism? Mamet's love of words, intonations? The cast and their delivery? The demands on an audience for a cinema play? The importance of the editing and pace?
5. The title, the American focus? The coin, the nickel, the small coin? Symbol of American greed and enterprise?
6. The microcosm: the individual Americans and individualism? The tradition of enterprise and business? The focus on self? Poisoning other people, suspicions and susceptibilities? The eruption of violence? The detachment - "It's only business"?
7. The credits and the poker game, the atmosphere of Donny and Teach? The other members and their being spoken of - word pictures of Fletcher, Gracie and Ruth? As seen, especially by Teach?
8. The background of the set-up about the American buffalo? Its simplicity? The coin and Donny's coming into possession of it, his telling the story, the inquiries about its value? His getting the money? Bobby and his friendship with Donny, surrogate father? On drugs? His being paid to watch the coin dealer's house? The plan to steal the coin, do another deal? The build-up to the break-in? Betrayals?
9. Denis Franz as Donny: an ordinary citizen, a basic decency, conscience? Yet petty criminal? Wheeling and dealing? The coin sales? Playing cards, losing at cards? His shop, trade and lack of it, the coin and the story? His concern about Bobby? Bobby and the watching of the house, lying? The friendship with Teach, Teach hanging around? Discussing issues with Teach all day, allowing Teach to poison him, raise doubts, undermine his confidence in people? The arguments and their effect on Donny's mind, feelings? The reliance on Fletcher? His characteristics? Trust? The story of the accident, his jaw breaking, Bobby lying about the hospital, Ruthie ringing, the fact that he had been attacked? The growing exasperation, Teach wanting to do the breaking and entering? His wanting to keep Teach out of it, to protect Bobby? Teach's violence towards Bobby? Getting the car? A future?
10. Bobby and his age, no family, drugs? On the watch for Donny, surrogate son? Friendship with teach? Buying the meals, his being erratic in his information, not seeing the man coming out of his house, lying? The return, the deals? Wanting to confide in Donny, to avoid Teach? The story of Fletcher in hospital, his lying? Teach's brutality and hitting him? His not wanting to go to the hospital? His finally being taken in the car? His future?
11. Teach and one of the great American stage roles? Dustin Hoffman and his screen presence, articulate, yet scrounging and a man of the street? At the poker game, losing? The complete individualist, scrounging, wandering the streets yet street-smart, discussions about meals and what he would eat? Wanting to get in on the job? Prising the information from Donny, poisoning his mind about Fletch, making him suspicious? His smart talk, his ability to undermine people, to argue? Loyalties? His attitudes towards Gracie and Ruth, towards Fletch? Towards Bobby - and his violence? His future?
12. A film of talk and ideas? Particularly relevant to Americans? The '70s, '80s and '90s and American enterprise, morality? The microcosm of what is wrong with America?