(director/writer: David Mamet; screenwriters: Philip Dalkin/Kim Gyngell/from the novel Suspects by William Caunitz; cinematographer: Roger Deakins; editor: Barbara Tulliver; music: Alaric Jans; cast: Joe Mantegna (Bobby Gold), William H. Macy (Tim Sullivan), Natalija Nogulich (Chava), Ving Rhames (Randolph), Rebecca Pidgeon (Senna), Vincent Guastaferro (Olcott), Lionel Mark Smith (Frank), Jack Wallace (Curren) J. J. Johnston (Deputy Mayor Walker), Paul Butler (Grounder), Colin Stinton (Walter B. Wells), Adolph Mall (Benjamin); Runtime: 100; MPAA Rating: R; producers: Michael Hausman/Edward R. Pressman; Columbia TriStar; 1991)
“Has an hypnotic quality that kept me riveted.“
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
Writer and director David Mamet’s (“House of Games”/”Things Change”) third film is based on the vexing thriller novel Suspect by William Caunitz. The suspense is more about a search into the nature of identity than as a crime puzzler. Joe Mantegna is the tough honest cop Bobby Gold, who keeps a low profile about his Jewishness. When a black superior officer calls him a kike, he responds with rage. His anger increases when he’s pulled off an important cop killer case involving a black drug pusher (Ving Rhames) and told to investigate the homicide of an old Jewish woman simply because he’s also Jewish. The victim was shot to death behind the counter of her candystore in the black ghetto, and it turns out her family was politically well-connected. The Jewish family is afraid this was not a simple murder case but an anti-Semitic attack and that they are next. It also turns out that the old woman was not quite what she seemed, as she was a member of a cabal that smuggled arms to Jews in Palestine in 1946.
At first resenting the assignment Gold makes an anti-Semitic remark on the phone overheard by Chava (Natalija Nogulich), one of the dead woman’s relatives, who calls him out for his slurs. Gold feels ashamed, and a change of attitude comes over him when he begins to get involved with the family and they remind of his lost identity. He begins to accept this assignment and to deal with his repressed Jewishness, and suddenly becomes gung-ho about their cause. He does this to discover his own roots but also he feels for the family and wishes to uncover the threats they are faced with, which he relates to the bitter fate of all Jews.
Viewed as a character study, the film suffers from changes happening too abruptly to be all that convincing. That Gold is suddenly driven away from his adopted police brothers to the dismay of Tim Sullivan (W.H. Macy), his Irish police buddy, and back into the fold of his own kind is believable, but that he becomes so militant was hard to follow. Nevertheless, Mantegna gives an intense performance as someone who remains an outsider no matter what he does. The film has an hypnotic quality that kept me riveted, as it acts as a provocative challenge to easy answers about identity. Mr. Mamet’s gift for language adds immeasurably to the film’s weight, as his caustic wit is generously sprinkled over the storyline as if it were a fine salad dressing.
REVIEWED ON 1/22/2004 GRADE: B https://dennisschwartzreviews.com/