David Mamet‘s film, State and Main (2000), concerns contretemps and obstacles between a moviemaking team and the citizens of a town called Waterford, Vermont, where the team are fashioning a film. The characters captivate: William H. Macy‘s agitated director, Alec Baldwin‘s hugely popular actor and nymphet-loving pervert, Rebecca Pidgeon’s bright, affable bookstore owner, Philip Seymour Hoffman’s diffident scenarist, and many others.
Like the witty dialogue, the plot is fun except that a glaring defect springs up when Clark Gregg‘s pushy prosecutor tries to build a statutory-rape case against Baldwin when he certifiably has no case at all. Gregg—his character—wouldn’t be that stupid. But something else bothers me more: Mamet, in truth, has nothing new to tell us about corruption or Hollywood folly, and that is entirely what his film is about. All State and Main can do is dispense airy cynicism—well, that in addition to showing us that somewhere deep inside Mamet he is a glorifier of the past. Not merely deep inside, of course, he is a conservative.
Mamet’s 1999 The Winslow Boy worked (as did his Phil Spector). The present film almost works, but not quite. Even so, it’s one of the most enjoyable failures I’ve seen, and if you can put up with airy cynicism you might enjoy it too.