Homicide (DVD Cover)

Cast: Det. Bobby Gold (Joe Mantegna), Det. Tim Sullivan (William H. Macy), Chava (Natalija Nogulich), Randolph (Ving Rhames), Lt. Senna (Vincent Guastaferro), Ms. Klein (Rebecca Pidgeon), Jilly Curran (J. J. Johnston), Frank (Jack Wallace), Charlie Olcott (Lionel Mark Smith)

Director: David Mamet

Theatrical release: 10/06/1991
DVD Date: 09/08/2009

Rating: R
Running Time: 102 minutes

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Review: I am a big fan of David Mamet's work. His 1997 films The Edge and The Spanish Prisoner (he wrote both, also directed the latter) rank among my all-time favorites, and I regularly re-watch Heist, a 2004 film starring Gene Hackman, which he also wrote and directed. I've seen maybe two or three others by him, and was intrigued by the premise of Homicide, a small indie film from 1991 that was recently released on DVD.

Joe Mantegna plays New York detective Bobby Gold, a hostage negotiator, who's pulled off his current high profile case when he's ordered to lead an investigation of the murder of an elderly Jewish woman, who operated a candy shop in a largely poor, predominantly black neighborhood. Nearby residents claim she had it coming, what with the fortune she supposedly had hidden in the store's basement -- which is not quite as far-fetched as it might seem, given she was the mother of one of New York's wealthiest and most influential families. As he delves deeper into the murder, he learns she may have been a target for a completely different reason, having been involved in supplying arms to Israel prior to its independence in 1948 and being a mentor to a group of militant Zionists currently operating in the city.

Homicide is a decidedly unusual film, and may be remembered by viewers for raising more questions than it answers. I was disappointed by what I consider to be several notable plot flaws as well as a series of plot ambiguities that culminate in an ending that resolves little.

Bobby Gold is central to the film (everyone else is merely in a supporting role), depicted as a deeply conflicted character -- all well and good. But even conflicted, reasonably intelligent characters don't typically become irrational simpletons within the space of a few minutes of screen time. In one of the most puzzling sequences in the film, after the Zionist group demands he turn over a piece of evidence found at the scene of the woman's murder, a demand he refuses because as an ethical cop he cannot, Bobby immediately turns around and commits a crime against an anti-Semitic group presumably because his (previously latent) Jewishness suddenly takes precedent over being a law-abiding citizen (never mind being a cop!). Or maybe it is because he was smitten with a woman. It's unclear ... but also senseless -- and actually kind of demeaning to the viewer.

The film's ending is one of those no doubt intended to foster discussion among viewers afterwards. Some may try to read something sociological into it, that it's about one's sense of belonging or not belonging, being on the inside or the outside of whatever group you are or are not part of, and the consequences thereto. But to me, the real question seems to be, Was Bobby Gold conned? And if so, by whom and toward what end? This is, after all, a David Mamet film, and cons -- or twists -- are part and parcel of his work (at least that of which I've seen and enjoyed). But I can honestly say, I don't know what is intended here. Maybe I am the one who's been conned ... and while that might not be a desirable result, it's not necessarily a bad outcome from a film.

Visually, Homicide has a minimalist look and feel, which suits both the story and the character of Bobby Gold well. The soundtrack largely consists of mournful strings, present but not intrusive. It's clearly a well-made film, but I have to say that after seeing it, for any future reviews of his films, I'll have to qualify my opening remarks to say "I am a big fan of (most of) David Mamet's work."


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