"You are not where you belong." Edmond Burke (William H Macy) is an ordinary man, dull even, and plods through his life with little regard for the riches that it might have offered him had it taken different turns. Edmond is bored but has insufficient awareness of self to realise until a fortune teller reads his cards and says those words to him. Following the number 115 and his cards as he remembers them, Edmond goes home, tells his wife (Rebecca Pidgeon) that he no longer loves her and leaves, walking out of his home in search of a drink. Going to a bar, Edmond meets a stranger (Joe Mantegna), who talks frankly about African-American society and its inferiority, before being told of a place where all of a man's desires may be satisfied.
Leaving the bar with his thinking freed from what might be considered acceptable in society, Edmond staggers between strip clubs, peep shows and brothels in search of a blowjob, through bars after a drink and around street hustlers. When confronted by violence, Edmond, to his own surprise, responds in kind and with the scent of blood about him, revels in the urge to cause pain and even to kill. But those first few hours of freedom, which taste sweet after being bound by social protocol for so long, become something of a nightmare as Burke sinks ever deeper into murder, sex and violence from which he cannot pull back.
Stuart Gordon remains most famous for Re-Animator, his film about Herbert West, and whilst there has been a long run of horror films, little of what he has done captured the rich grand guignol of that first film. Edmond makes no attempt to top Re-Animator, nor to dwell on the excess of blood and grue that one might expect of a horror film, but it is a horror film nonetheless, a retelling of Martin Scorcese's After Hours without any of the black humour, the flights of whimsy nor the plotting that looped in on itself. Instead and in their place come racism, homophobia, murder, violence and sexual abuse, all of which crackle with David Mamet's typically sharp dialogue and his belief in the very thin line that separates our sophisticated urbanity and the blood lust that lurks within.
Edmond is certainly an effective film but moreso in its earlier scenes, when there is less of a lesson in its horror and more a suggestion of, "There but for the grace of God go I!" Edmond Burke's night begins, as one might expect, ordinarily enough with his searching for an experience in the hours after work. Beginning with a visit to a fortune teller, Burke decides to visit a bar and wind down with a drink but has his moral compass nudged by a stranger who lays bare what he considers the lie of racial equality. As indignant as one who has a truth suddenly revealed to him, Burke struggles with this shift in his world and succumbs to a desire for flesh and for violence, at first a blowjob and then the warmth of spilt blood. Episodic in nature, Edmond follows Burke as he struggles with the economics of strip clubs and brothels, haggling with strippers (Denise Richards and Bai Ling) and a prostitute (Mena Suvari) before getting robbed and beaten up by a pair of street hustlers. This experience, rather than sending Edmond home rightly chastened, gives him reason to descend deeper into Hell and after pawning his wedding ring, buys a knife and responds to each act of violence with one of his own.
Where the film is less effective in its attempt to find an endpoint for Edmond, boiling down his actions to a search for a karmic punishment. His hatred of African-Americans, for example, ends with his sharing a cell with such a man whilst his agreeing with Glenna's (Julia Stiles), "I hate faggots!" gives the film a rather predictable denouement, which is much less shocking than the back of the DVD box implies. Unfortunately, though there are moments that surprise, Edmond is rather an inglorious tale, more adoring of its own writing than of Edmond Burke, Glenna or any of the other characters in the piece. Undoubtedly clever, it is also without heart and seeks to punish Burke not out of any notion of justice but more to draw out his nightmare, eventually allowing him happiness but in the most unlikely of situations.
Shot with a good eye for the juxtaposition of the bright lights of the city and the filth in its gutters, Edmond looks fine but has a certain softness about it that lets it down. Were one being generous, this might be described as in keeping with it being influenced by film noir but it's not quite gritty enough for that, more that it's a glossy updating of that style of filmmaking without being entirely convincing. On the other hand, there is much about this DVD that's very good, with good colours, no obvious damage to the print and a steady image. The DD5.1 audio track, which is not the default option, is a good one, making some use of the rear speakers but, given how much dialogue there is in the film, more often coming from the front three channels. However, it is a clean audio track and though there are occasions in which the dialogue gets a little lost beneath the audio effects, it's in keeping with the action on the screen and the sound of nightclubs, peep shows and the ambient noise on the streets of New York.
Anatomy Of A Thriller (11m12s): This short look at the making of Edmond doesn't work as a documentary but more a collection of behind the scenes footage without any kind of structure nor, it would seem, any point. Without putting any focus on the actual making of in favour of a randomness to what it presents, this is a disappointing feature and one that doesn't make anything of its David Mamet script.
Deleted Scenes (6m42s): Not that there are many of these and nor is it that they are particularly essential but these deleted scenes do add something to the early part of the film before Edmond experiences what might be considered his breakdown.
Commentaries: There are two tracks included here, one from Stuart Gordon and the other from David Mamet and though it would have been preferable to have them together, they're not at all bad apart. As it is, Gordon is joined by producers Duffy Hecht and Lionel Mark Smith, who combine to have recorded a lively, good-humoured commentary that concerns itself with the film whilst Mamet, who's on his own, offers a track that's less informal but, as one might expect, does a better job of explaining the background to the play, its various productions and the two decades that it took to reach the screen.
Finally, there is a Theatrical Trailer (2m06s) for Edmond as well as a Trailer (2m14s) for The Great New Wonderland.
A difficult film to like, Edmond is more a film to admire, less in its overall story than in Mamet's writing, Gordon's bleak framing of the screenplay and in William H Macy's reading of the title character. It makes for sometimes uncomfortable viewing but largely due to its quick pacing and short length, it's a fine thriller but unlike Mamet's better work and screen adaptations, such as Glengarry Glen Ross, Edmond tells us little about its characters and even less about humanity.