Grim view of studio toil and trouble
Benedict Nightingale of the The Times reviews Peter Gill's production of David Mamet's Speed-the-plow, March 18, 2000
DAVID MAMET has written and/or directed some terrific films in his time, but his view of Hollywood has remained grimly consistent. As he wrote in his book Some Freaks: "Its first and last rule is that we permit ourselves to be treated like commodities in the hope that we may one day be valuable commodities.
"Most Tinseltown toilers unquestioningly accept that rule. Some have moments, usually at night, when they wonder if it isn't damaging something inside them, such as a capacity for loving and being loved.
And a few, a very few, challenge it. All three stances get a hearing in the abstrusely titled but irresistibly rowdy, raucous Speed-the-Plow.
Right from the start you sense that, as in Mamet's American Buffalo and Glengarry Glen Ross, macho swagger hides deep insecurity and chummy sententiousness a desperate greed. Both Mark Strong's Gould, who has just become head of production at a leading studio, and Patrick Marber's Fox, who has secured a top star's promise to appear in a buddy movie, trot out the ritual tosh about the importance of loyalty and the unimportance of money; but their joshing ("you're either scheming or zigging and zagging") suggests there's envy and anger behind the show — and the intervention of a temporary secretary proves it.
Is it plausible that her naive questions — "But is the film good?", "Do you enjoy your job?" — should so stir the hardened Gould that he thinks of ditching Fox's gilt-edged project for an adaptation of a well-meaning but nutty apocalyptic novel by some "Eastern cissy"? It seemed so when Madonna brought her charisma to the character on Broadway in 1988. But Kimberly Williams, who plays her here, is too like an artless, eager student of elementary film studies to bring off any such miracle.
Strong could suggest more edginess inside the laid-back supremo; Marber, who is best known as an author and director, is apt to signal rather than embody his rawer drives; but neither leaves you in doubt of the gap between rhetoric and feeling in their West-coast Babylon.
Together, they give Peter Gill's revival the swing, aggro and verbal dash Mamet needs.
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