Homicide -- A Bewildering Morality Play

                                        I became a fan of David Mamet’s writing and directing prowess, ever since I watched his foul-mouthed, perplexed drama “Glengarry Glen Ross” (1992). He takes a generic plot and turns it into something intricate with punchy dialogues. “Homicide” (1991) was one of Mamet’s lesser know ‘Grade-A’ work that is as compelling and complex as his prestigious “House of Games” (1987). ‘Homicide’ is a morality play which starts off as a police thriller. As in other Mamet’s films, the protagonist of ‘Homicide’ takes a journey of self-discovery while descending into life’s dark side.

                                       Bobby Gold (Joe Mantegna) is a veteran homicide detective, who has great skills at hostage negotiation (they call him “The Orator”). He has twenty two citations for valor and volunteers to go first through a dangerous doorway. The movie starts off with a botched FBI mission, where a dangerous drug dealer (Ving Rhames) escapes killing a cop. Bobby and his partner/friend Tim Sullivan (William H. Macy) were assigned to catch the drug dealer and cop killer. Gold is defined by his specialized skills and gives very little thought to his Jewish identity except for when a annoyed police commissioner calls him a “kike”.

                                       On the way to catch the drug dealer, Bobby gets side-tracked as he stumbles onto a crime scene, which has handled poorly by two rookie cops. An elderly Jewish woman has been gunned down. She runs a corner store in the poor black neighborhood. People who gather near the crime scene say that the woman might have been killed because she had a fortune in the basement. But, Bobby isn’t interested on who or why the lady was killed. He just waits for other detectives to arrive so that he could go on to catch his drug dealer. While waiting, Bobby sees the old lady’s wealthy son and granddaughter (Rebecca Pidgeon). When Bobby returns to the precinct he comes to know that he has been taken off the case and assigned to investigate the murder of that old woman.

                                        It seems the old lady was mother of Dr. Klein (J.S. Block), an influential man amongst the Jewish leaders. The family has pulled strings to assign Gold to the case as he is Jew. Bobby Gold is very angry initially since he has been reassigned and when he is called by Klein’s, claiming that someone was shooting at their house from the nearby rooftop, he’s very skeptical. Bobby makes a call from Klein’s house and profanely talks about their wealth and anti-semitic paranoia. Only later he notices that his phone conversation has been overheard by the granddaughter. He feels guilt for his persecution and comes face-to-face with his own feelings about Jewish identity. From there, Bobby begins a journey that draws him into the shadowy corners of Chicago’s Zionist activists and white supremacists.

                                       The protagonists in a Mamet‘s movie more or less goes through the same experiences, although it is presented in a fascinating manner: Mamet’s heroes likes to talk. They speak in a profane language all their own, but at the same it is eloquent, as if it’s the poetry for tough-guys; Mamet’s heroes always get cheated by people they think they could rely on; and his heroes give up on people/friends, who have stood for them all their life. “Homicide’s” protagonist also has similar identity crisis, but things her are more gripping and complex because of the racial dynamics. Although there is no outright racial prejudice, the cops don’t see themselves as a united front. Sullivan’s ‘Irishness’ is joked about, Gold’s heritage is often dug up, and Gold uses the ‘N-word’ in a moment of anger, and there are also homophobic slurs. So, all these things play a significant role in Bobby Gold’s later violations.

                                       The phone call from the Klein’s house and a conversation with a Rabbi in the library triggers an internal debate within Gold that makes him to go frantically search for his heritage. The sudden change in tone at this point is well handled, although it has the dangers of devolving into a ridiculous conspiracy theory thriller. As a viewer, we initially find it hard to believe in Gold’s change in character. Within a matter of hours, he becomes an extremist ready to torch the shop of white supremacist, but Mantegna’s restrained finely brings out the other character that has slept within his mind (it is alluded that Gold has no family).  Mamet has thematically convinced us with the primary characters’ change, but still it is a bit psychologically unconvincing. However, this little flaw is washed off by the movie’s unsettling, film noir ending. It is a pessimistic as well as an ambitious ending. Bobby Gold is left alone, bruised internally and externally, and the devil (a prisoner) in ‘blue suit’ passes him, relishing at the fact that he has taught Gold, ‘the nature of evil.’

                                       “Homicide” (101 minutes) starts off like a police procedural, but works into ideas and themes that finally offer us a portrait of humankind, unable to see past its self-made racial divides. It shows how segmentation and hatred could easily claim a person’s integrity.



Unknown said...

Hi Arun,

I am writing to share with you that I have nominated you for the Liebster Award. Please accept it if its not against your blog policy. You can view your nomination here http://www.sunshineandzephyr.com/2014/09/thank-you-for-the-award-and-my-nominees/

Take care,

Vishal Kataria said...

Movies like these which make people ponder and introspect are what society needs more... unfortunately commercial ones are what society wants more...

Great review :)

Arun Kumar said...

@ Vishal, Thanks for the comment. Movies are always seen as a synonym for 'entertainment'. So, movies like "Homicide" are often ignored because there isn't a noble hero saving the world or community.