Homicide (1991)

Written and directed by David Mamet

Bob Gold (Joe Mantegna) is a homicide detective assigned to tracking down a murder suspect, but is instead roped into what appears a convenience store robbery-turned-murder. On one hand, the there’s this high-profile case where the FBI’s involved and he’s uniquely suited to assist, and the other case has a victim with ties to the city’s Jewish community, who claims anti-semitic underpinnings. 

Caught in police politics and the quagmire of his own Jewish heritage, Gold descends into a shadow game of conspiracy theories and racial and religious tension to confront murderers, Zionists and his own sense of self. As he goes along, we begin to wonder: maybe the original murder victim was the one who got off easy? 

Mamet’s script is the real hero here, clocking in overtime with blinding one-liners popping off in exchanges whose undercurrents swell with thematic implications. Watching along, you’re offered the opportunity to sit back and watch terrific performances from Mantegna, William H. Macy as Gold’s partner, Vincent Guestaferro as Gold’s superior, or Ving Rhames, a late-coming scene stealer, or you can engage beyond simple pleasure and parse Mamet’s script and its emotionally charged examination of tribal attitudes, people’s desire for inclusion, their undoing by exclusion, or how they can be manipulated by that aforementioned desire.

Mamet’s direction is as literary as his writing, with a lens that’s detail-oriented with pointed close-ups that align well with its nature as a detective story. It also exhibits fine work by Roger Deakins, who’s more attuned to this murky story’s shadow play and doesn’t overpower it with the striking visuals he’s become known for today. Here it’s an homage to noirs of old with figures stepping out of sight in dark alleyways and evocative rooftop pursuits. 

As a cloak-and-dagger mystery, Homicide is thrilling, but it is its ceaseless interrogation of how self-perception is warped by tribal loyalty and its pernicious effects that really elevates Homicide from simple crime to sophistication. 

Gold is in theory part of a blue brotherhood, but admits to feelings of ostracization due to being Jewish, with slurs falling easily from foes and colleagues alike when feelings run hot. He’s also Jewish (mostly on paper to his chagrin, as he doesn’t read Hebrew or understand Yiddish – facts that become clear as must spend time with the murder victim’s family). Caught between the two, a deep-seated need to prove himself emerges, adding a live wire to this story of cops chasing bad guys, as Gold’s stoic professionalism begins to crack under the strain of having to choose between the oath he swore to uphold when he picked up his badge, and his religious inheritance of us-versus-them mentality grown out of millennia of persecution. 

Dense with politics of the personal and societal, Homicide is a gem perfect for any dark night of the soul, a despairing film that will lure you in with its classic gumshoe mystery virtues only to pull the rug from underneath you with a world-weary cynicism that feels wholly out of place ushering in the 90s with its interrogation of identity, loyalty and personhood to start off a decade more concerned with spearing consumerist tendencies and the lure of the flesh. 

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