State and Main
David Mamet's State and Main is a self-satisfied satire of American greed and ambition. The title refers to an intersection in the small New England town where a vicious Hollywood crew has come to film a 19th-century period drama. From the actors and producer down to the town's bookstore owner, everybody's got a few faces to choose from and some barely conceal ulterior motives up their sleeves. Mamet's script repeatedly suggests that the voracious qualities of millionaire Hollywood power players and isolated small-town folk spring from the same stream. The conceit yields humorous moments, but underscores a crucial weakness: scenes of panoramic unscrupulousness thwart satire's ability to make a pointed social statement. When the whole world is bad even the good jokes go sour.
State and Main does revel in its scrutiny, however. Phillip Seymour Hoffman gives a delicious performance as a neurotic screenwriter verging on sellout. He's got writer's block, and his waning integrity is abused by the director and bolstered by a socially climbing bookseller (played by Rebecca Pidgeon, Mamet's real-life wife). Ann (Pidgeon) breaks off an engagement with a local lawyer just moments after meeting Hoffman's character in her store. Alec Baldwin and Sarah Jessica Parker are the fictional production's fledgling stars. He's a pedophile, she's a vulture. Their ability to generate scandal and strife is exceptional.
In such shallow backwaters, a little bit of depth would have made a great splash. Respected writer-director David Mamet is in a position to turn out a scathingly funny industry critique with finely-tuned performances but State and Main isn't it.