Homicide is very probably David Mamet’s most intriguing and complex film. It’s also his most muddled and contrived—flaws that are unfortunately the result of it being his most intriguing and complex film. Sometimes you have to pay the price for that, but in this case it’s not that heavy of a price, because of the depth of the issues Mamet raises.
His film presents Joe Mantegna as police detective Bobby Gold, a Jewish man who has essentially traded in his place in Jewish society for one in the police force. However, the fact that he is a Jew gets him pulled off a high-profile case to instead investigate the murder of an elderly Jewish woman—much to his annoyance. It’s a case—and to some degree a society—he wants no part of. Gold thinks the claims that her murder was connected to an anti-Semitic campaign of terror are the result of paranoia. Having sublimated his own Jewishness, he doesn’t see the world in the way the Jewish society he encounters does, but the further he delves into the case, the more it seems the claims may be right.
The deeper he travels into the case, the deeper he travels into himself and his suppressed identity. Along the way, he becomes more estranged from the world of the police and more drawn into the realm of a militant Jewish group engaged in a war with rabid neo-Nazis. It’s disturbing, fascinating stuff, but it requires too great a shift on Gold’s part to completely work. Mamet pulls off more of it than he doesn’t with his usual, extremely clever—and extremely profane—dialogue, but in the end, he seems to have attempted just too much with this film. At best, it’s a flawed masterpiece of ambition—but isn’t that better than the film being complacently adequate?