Homicide (1991)

I’ve decided to use the month of November to do a series of reviews that revolve around Film Noir in any shape or form (known as Noirvember). The rule is that it has, at minimum, a few noir elements or influences, and at most we are watching the full blown chain-smoking-bogart experience. Today we’ll be talking about a lesser known film that, as of this review, can be experienced either on DVD or Amazon Prime. I had difficulty seeing where else it can be, and even on DVD it’s hard to get, so Prime would be the best way to see this I would say. Directed and written by David Mamet and starring Joe Mantegna (a go-to actor for Italian American Gangster roles and the voice of Fat Tony in The Simpsons), this is Homicide.

Set in the modern day (1991 at the time) in an American city that is never named, our story revolves around Joe Mantegna’s character Bobby Gold, a Homicide Detective and Negotiator who is trying to catch Robert Randolph (played by Ving Rhimes), a drug dealer and cop-killer on the FBI’s most wanted list. While on his way to apprehend an associate/relation of Randolph’s, Gold and his partner, Tim Sullivan (William H Macy), end up stopping at a scene where a homicide took place. An elder Jewish woman who ran a sweet shop was gunned down for her fortune in the basement. When her son, a doctor, finds out that Gold is Jewish, he pulls some strings and gets Gold assigned to his Mother’s murder case, even though the Randolph case is first priority to Gold. He is then placed on the fence – does he put the Force first like he always did, or help his own people?

Now to look at the details:

I’ll start by saying that the acting is excellent, and the dialogue is snappy without sounding overly rehearsed. About ninety percent of emotions in this film are different volumes of anger, from the quiet mourners to the stressed policemen, and the film’s very blunt when it comes to 2 of its more prevalent themes: racism and anti-Semitism.

The characters are very much plot-driven with some room for development, but in the end we’re not meant to care about whether Gold prefers Sinatra or Martin. Gold’s development is based primarily on some of the themes of the film, in particular, the anti-semitism he receives, and the alienation that he experiences when it comes to own Jewishness. Because though he was born a Jew, he is very much secular. (Possibly) No bar-mitzvah, doesn’t understand or speak Hebrew, and doesn’t go to the synagogue…and so he hasn’t a clue about this identity he possesses, to the point of his own people judging him for it. In a way, he is the self-hating Jew, or “The Wicked Son” that David Mamet talks about in his 2006 book of the same name (Which Mamet wrote as a memoir to his younger self) – A Jew who picks and chooses what he wants from his heritage (if anything at all) while living like a gentile. While he has friends on the force who look out for him (Especially Tim Sullivan) he is still given a hard time on the force, in particular from at least one superior.

The story is the best aspect of this film, because it is written really, really well. There is no trimming. As far as a series of events that keep the plot moving are concerned, everything has its place. Everything is useful in the drive forward, and everything is useful in taking Bobby from point A to point B, with pondering, getting mixed up and getting caught up in great sacrifice. This is very much Bobby Gold’s story, as no scene exists without him. And with a script this tight, it’s the best way to experience it.

The music is by David Mamet’s go-to composer, Alaric Jens, who uses violin, piano and bass to create a very somber score. A haunting combination of an unhappy city, a disillusioned detective and an echo from Schindler’s List (Or, this is an echo within Schindler’s List, as it came out a few years earlier).

In terms of art direction, special effects and cinematography, Mamet chose to place less emphasis on it in favour of the film’s story and characters, and yet despite this, it’s still very atmospheric. The film is shot with drained colours and is presented almost entirely with natural light and isn’t afraid of looking too dark on screen. The presentation of violence is less about how flashy the fights are or gory the wounds are (although crime scenes are bloody, regardless) and more about how the emotions are thrown into it. The locations were shot in Baltimore, Maryland, but the film doesn’t say where it is, so it could be anywhere in the USA. It has no problem presenting itself with the dirt and grime that has since become famous in the 2002 TV Show ‘The Wire’.

Would I recommend Homicide? Yes I would. It’s a very tightly written, well paced crime thriller with noir qualities that deals with some heavy issues that are still prevalent today. The tear between who Bobby is and who he is expected to be is well played out. And while the choice of language and the vehicles of said language could make the modern man blush, it shouldn’t be shunned if you are mature enough to see it.

Acting: ****1/2

Characters: ****

Story: *****

Music: ****1/4

Art: ****1/2

CGI/Special Effects: ****1/2

Cinematography: ****

Overall: ****1/2

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