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Homicide

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Long unavailable on home video, David Mamet’s 1991 film Homicide remains the most weirdly personal work he’s written directly for the screen, and still ranks among his finest. It tackles the little-raised question of what it means to be Jewish in America, focusing on a big-city cop (Joe Mantegna, with his amazing ability to make Mamet’s mannered dialogue sound utterly natural) who finds himself re-examining both his priorities and his identity after being forced to investigate the murder of an elderly Jewish shopkeeper. The plot gets a tad preposterous, but rarely has Mamet’s tough-guy ethos been put to such an oddly moving test.

The Details

Homicide
Four stars

As ever, the fine folks at Criterion have done a terrific job bringing a little-seen gem to home video. Because Mamet began as a playwright and remains obsessed with language, he gets little respect as a visual stylist, but from Homicide’s opening shot, which tracks alongside Mantegna and other officers as they prepare to raid an apartment, this sharp transfer makes it clear how much attention the film pays to light and composition. Some may prefer to credit ace cinematographer Roger Deakins, but if Mamet’s flinty, informative commentary track (also featuring supporting actor William H. Macy) is to be believed, the two fought more often than you’d expect, with the director often emerging victorious. In any case, listening will save you the cost of one of Mamet’s how-to books.

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