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Dark and brutal, 'Edmond' puts Macy on the edge

There is actorly commitment, then there is what William H. Macy does in ``Edmond." The 75-minute movie is taken from a David Mamet play from the early 1980s and requires Macy, as the increasingly appalled title character, to say some unprintable things about women and blacks, to bemoan the sad state of the world, and to commit a grisly murder or two -- William H. Macy!

While never less than completely miscast, Macy is also unwavering in his devotion to Mamet's central idea about the imagined weight of the white man's burden. His unflinching fervor almost makes up for the fact that you can't help wondering what Jason Robards, Jack Lemmon, Jack Nicholson, or even Alec Baldwin would have done with the part.

Edmond is undone after a fortuneteller informs him, ``You are not where you belong." Following the cosmic carrot on the existential stick, he walks out on his wife (Rebecca Pidgeon) and bourgeois life and goes for a drink at a bar where another miserable suit (Joe Mantegna) lays out the gist of what's got men like himself and Edmond down. ``There's too much pressure on us," he says. ``A man's got to get out. A man has got to get away from himself." Edmond, though, appears to be worse off: ``I don't feel like a man."

To rectify this, he does what any gentleman with castration anxiety would: He takes out his wallet and goes looking for sex. He tries a gentleman's club, where Denise Richards is offering lap dances; a low-rent peep show, starring Bai Ling; and a high-class brothel, where Mena Suvari works. Yet none of it leads to consummation. The sex business is as big a scam as the brothers running three-card monte on the sidewalk.

Eventually, too much venality (and a mugging and beating, too) sends poor Edmond over the edge. Mind you, he's never too battered or disgusted to stop trying to buy intercourse or, in the case of Julia Stiles as a waitress foolish enough to take him home, get it more or less free. He soon discovers, however, that assault and battery, and, later, murder, might be more freeing than sex.

It's around here that the film, which Mamet adapted and Stuart Gordon directed, starts to feel like the playwright's ``Taxi Driver." But Mamet isn't out to shock the way Paul Schrader and Martin Scorsese were, even though a lot of Gordon's staging, particularly one slaying shot from the victim's point of view, is seedily blunt. ``Edmond" is a work of outrage that's not outrageous. Its racism and misogyny seem square and almost quaint. But the last handful of scenes, featuring Bokeem Woodbine as an acquaintance of Edmond's, are worth the price of a ticket. Depending on your point of view, they're either happy or hellish, in a ``Paradise Lost" sort of way. Edmond doesn't exactly fall from grace, he bungee jumps.

The play and the movie are paranoid exhibits of certain white men's primal fears. Both dramatize the consciously peeved sensibility that would inform many of Mamet's later plays and films. When the bottom appears to have been pulled out from under these guys, when they're pushed into a socioeconomic corner, they instinctively look at changing times through their straight-white-male lens. In Mamet's understanding, straight white maleness is the most powerful weapon such men have. It can also be illusory, which is why the last scenes of ``Edmond" are so touching. Macy's character is either being scorned or redeemed. It's probably both, but the actor's innate decency is a strong argument for the latter.

Wesley Morris can be reached

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