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By Matthew Sorrento | July 31, 2006

The title character of “Edmond” starts out a discontent man in a comfortable world, and ends up finding contentment in what your average upper-class suit would deem a nightmare. David Mamet’s adaptation of his 1982 episodic stage play, about a man’s futile quest in Manhattan’s seamier side, calls in William H. Macy for the title role. A Mamet veteran, Macy nails a challenging part that could have easily been lost somewhere between the surreal and the absurd.

A tarot reading inspires Edmond Burke to end his marriage that has become artificial. His wife (Rebecca Pidgeon, the ever eloquent wife of Mamet) seems angered less by the news than by his detached manner delivering it. During his post-argument drink at a bar, a suave talker (Joe Mantegna) approaches him. Another Mamet regular, Mantegna played Ricky Roma in the American premiere of “Glengarry Glen Ross,” and here he offers some Roma-like barroom talk. “You feel like your balls were cut off,” Mantegna’s character infers about Edmond, and casually offers some possible solutions: “money,” “adventure,” “p***y,” “self destruction.” After tapping Edmund’s need for a sure thing, he recommends a strip joint.

Edmond’s attempt to find sex there soon proves abortive. He eventually visits three different professional girls (Denise Richards, Bai Ling, and Mena Suvari), all of whom offer prices too high for Edmond. When he replies “too much” to the first girl he seems picky, until you realize that he equates his personal worth with what the girls are charging.

A cathouse loser, Edmond ironically gets lucky with a flat-out proposal to a much younger waitress (Julia Stiles, from Mamet’s “State and Main”). After taking her home and to bed, he vents to her about a pimp who attempted to rob him. Racism works its way into Edmond’s cut-and-dried perspective here, and he even draws out similar sentiment from his new lover. It’s regretful that she fits into his narcissistic framework for a time, since the unstable Edmond cannot withhold rage when she proves to have a slightly different frame of reference.

From here Macy holds down what becomes an even riskier narrative. Inspiring rage and vulnerability, he creates a dynamic presence that continues through a dismal third act. While raving mad in a subway car, Macy screams “I’ve worked all my life!” and makes the sentiment credible motivation for his perverse role. He brought similar credibility to his tour de force portrayal of the pathetically immoral Jerry Lundegaard in “Fargo.”

While the episodic script feels fragmented, Macy’s consistency unifies Edmond’s journey. At times, the short scenes on film make Mamet’s staccato dialogue feel overbearing, especially when a few sets cannot escape a “filmed play” feeling. (The virtually perfect cast of the filmed “Glengarry Glen Ross” wiped out any taste of staginess, while the film versions of Mamet’s “Oleanna” and “Lakeboat” could not escape it for a minute.) Many of the performers play up to Macy’s level, most notably Bokeem Woodbine as a hardened criminal who degrades and enlightens Edmond.

The director Stuart Gordon, who made the classic horror films “Re-Animator” and “From Beyond,” proves effective at the helm. Having directed the original stage production of Mamet’s “Sexual Perversity in Chicago,” Gordon throws in some nifty shocks that fuel the focused Macy. It’s great to see this once-promising director, who has slumped through routine H.P. Lovecraft adaptations over the years, get a taste of some substantial material. (Jeffrey Combs, the filmmaker’s geeky muse of horrors past, appears as a bitchy hotel clerk.) Under Gordon’s eye, Macy draws pity for a character who feels nothing beyond his own suffering.

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