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USA 2000
Directed by
David Mamet
105 minutes
Rated M

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
4 stars

State And Main

Synopsis: A movie crew descend upon Waterford, a rural backwater in New England. Director Walt Price (William H. Macy) is beset by all kinds of problems including a male star (Alec Baldwin) whose hobby is young girls, a female lead (Sarah Jessica Parker) who wants an extra $800,000 to bare her breasts, and the fact that the old mill which brought them to Waterford actually burnt down 30 years ago. The film's scriptwriter (Philip Seymour Hoffman) is out of his depth but finds companionship with local bookstore keeper and community theatre director, Ann (Rebecca Pidgeon).

One of America's leading contemporary playwrights, writer-director David Mamet is above all a wordsmith and it shows in this, his latest film (previous efforts being the excellent House Of Games,1987, and, not so successfully, The Spanish Prisoner,1998). Set in the hermetic environment of a picture-book townlet,  Mamet's smart and typically self-conscious dialogue, most apparent in the phonic-antiphonic interplay between Hoffman and Pidgeon) accentuates the unspoken ideas that lie beyond the story itself.

Ideas about, in modern life, what is important and true and what is not, are central to Mamet's work and this tale of the big bad wolf of Hollywood and the Little Red Riding Hood of Waterford, Vermont is a droll, albeit familiar, vehicle for them. Mamet is, of course, aware that there have been many films satirising Hollywood's immorality, or at least, amorality so merit derives, not so much from what he is saying as how he says it. And not only does he do it with verbal style but his cast deliver his script with equal panache.

William H. Macy is, as ever, hugely amusing in a completely dead pan way, as the hustling director with a "gift for fiction", as are Sarah Jessica Parker as the narcissistic starlet and Alec Baldwin as her co-star with a taste for under-age girls. Philip Seymour Hoffman (seen as Lester Bangs in last year's Almost Famous) as the quietly anguished writer and Rebecca Pidgeon (Mrs Mamet in real life) as the preternaturally wise, Norman Rockwell-ish dimpled girl-next-door carry the leads faultlessly.

Clearly the 1940s odes to small town America by Preston Sturges and Frank Capra were Mamet's reference points for this film (here, the bow-tied local doctor with a hip-flask is a kind of avatar of those films, whilst the porch swing is a shared prop). For those who can appreciate them, the symmetries provide yet another resonance to an already rich text.

State and Main is not a rollickingly funny film but if you appreciate graceful irony and well-crafted writing you won't be disappointed.




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