Plot: What’s it about?
David Mamet is one of the best known American playwrights of the last half century. His plays Sexual Perversity in Chicago, American Buffalo, and Glengarry Glen Ross are some of his most acclaimed works and are still routinely played in theaters across the country. Mamet also is an accomplished director of his own material as seen in Glengarry Glen Ross and House of Games. I have always really enjoyed his work with the occasional film not quite hitting the mark. For the film version of American Buffalo he left the directing duties up to Michael Corrente.
American Buffalo takes place at a small pawn shop across the street from a diner. Don (Dennis Franz) bumps into his friend Teach (Dustin Hoffman) on the way into the pawn shop. Don owns the pawn shop and Teach plays card games with him occasionally. Accompanying Don is a young African-American teenager named Bob who looks up to Don as a type of a mentor and does small errands for Don. Teach has just been slighted by somebody at the Diner and is in one hell of a mood. Teach catches onto something in the air between Don and Bob and probes Don to find out what is going on. Don explains that he is having Bob help him tail a customer that had recently paid him fifty dollars for a buffalo nickel. Don feels that the man has slighted him, and hopes to rob the man of his coin collection. Teach seizes on the opportunity to begin scheming with Don to achieve the robbery and also begins to try his best to edge Bob out of the scheme.
Watching the film, it should be obvious very quickly that the film is based on a play. There is no action shown on screen that could not just as easily be performed on a stage with just one set. That means that the film sinks or swims based on the dialogue and the performances, because there is not a ton to focus on outside of the characters’ discussions. For my taste, the film was definitely enjoyable. Dustin Hoffman and Dennis Frantz are both great in their roles and Sean Nelson as Bob really made me feel empathetic. The dialogue is Mamet dialogue, so it is rough and tough and clever and profane. Fans of Mamet’s film work will feel right at home with the dialogue in the film. The only thing that people may complain about watching the film is that the film does not do anything that the stage-play couldn’t. If you go into it and think of it as a really well-acted version of the play, that would probably fare better for the regular film viewer. I enjoyed it as I watched it but could see this film growing on me more on a second viewing, simply because I found myself thinking about it still a few days later. Fans of Mamet should give this one a shot.
Video: How’s it look?
Twilight Time provided an excellent transfer of the film using an MPEG-4 AVC codec. This film is capably shot by cinematographer Richard Crudo and while not in any way flashy, it gets the job done. The transfer has excellent clarity and color reproduction. I did not see any signs of DNR and the print appeared to be in good shape. While not exactly a breathtakingly beautiful film, the movie has been given more than it’s due in this transfer.
Audio: How’s it sound?
This DTS-HD MA 2.0 track has excellent fidelity to the original elements. This is a chatty track without too much going on in it, but the dialogue is clear as day. There are a few occasional effects that blend in well to the soundstage from some oncoming thunder. The score by Thomas Newman is fairly unobtrusive and is served well by the transfer. I didn’t detect any noticeable hiss or drop-outs of audio. No problems here whatsoever.
Supplements: What are the extras?
- Original Theatrical Trailer
- MGM 90th Anniversary Trailer
- Isolated Score and Effects Track
- Commentary Track with Julie Kirgo and Nick Redman – this is one of the better commentary tracks by the dynamic duo from Twilight Time. A very informative Track that is also entertaining and light. Very enjoyable.
The Bottom Line
American Buffalo is a very capable adaptation of Mamet’s play. Some viewers may feel the film is a bit cagey due to the limitations of the script to one set for the duration of the movie. Luckily the dialogue and acting more than make up for that shortcoming. Dustin Hoffman and Dennis Franz are both great in their roles. Technical merits of the disk are very good and the commentary Track is one of the best I have heard from the Twilight Time crew. I recommend checking this one out of you are a fan of Mamet.