Blu-ray Review: American Buffalo - Twilight Time Limited Edition

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Limited to just 3,000 copies, boutique reissue label Twilight Time has recently issued American Buffalo on Blu-ray. The 1996 film is based on the 1975 play of the same name written by David Mamet. As directed by Michael Corrente, the film’s stage roots are readily apparent given the limited number of characters and locations. Having never seen the play, you won’t find any comparisons here. But suffice it to say that Mamet’s play has won many accolades and been revived on Broadway (and other locations) numerous times over the years. Someone’s doing something right. However, the filmed adaptation comes across as stilted and stagey, with Mamet’s dialogue sounding strangely artificial at times.

Essentially American Buffalo is a two-man showcase. Dennis Franz plays junk shop proprietor Donny and Dustin Hoffman plays his “friend” Teach. Even in the hands of these skilled actors, the dialogue and extended monologues sometimes feel too “written,” too articulate for these uneducated guys. Support work comes from Sean Nelson as teenaged Bobby, a not-so-bright kid to whom Donny serves as something of a father figure. Over the course of 88 minutes, Teach and Donny come up with a harebrained scheme to rob valuable nickels from a coin collector. Since we never leave Donny’s shop or meet anyone beyond this oddball trio of characters, Corrente’s film seems more interested in capturing a specific moment in time than with telling a compelling story. It’s about two people of low intellect attempting to plot a scheme, not the scheme itself.

American Buffalo BD (214x280).jpgTeach is utterly repellent, with Donny somewhat redeemed by his nurturing tendency toward Bobby. But the two end up entrusting Bobby with a key role in their nickel heist. It’s an unwise move as things inevitably go seriously wrong. By the end of the story, it’s difficult to even like Donny after he basically turns on his surrogate “son” for making a mistake. Teach is a ticking time bomb, well-played by Hoffman, and by the time he goes off it’s hard to fathom why anyone would put up with him. Maybe that’s the point, but it results in a relatively short film that feels much longer as it tips into tedium.

As is customary for Twilight Time, American Buffalo has been treated well in its high definition debut. The 1080p transfer of Richard Crudo’s cinematography is always very sharp. The only mild issue is occasional print debris that flecks across the screen now and again. The DTS-HD MA 2.0 stereo soundtrack is free of any problems. It’s a simple mix that keeps the focus on the dialogue and Thomas Newman’s score. Speaking of the score, Twilight Time (as is customary for their Limited Edition series) has made it available as an isolated track.

Film historians Julie Kirgo and Nick Redman sit together for a new audio commentary that does a great job of adding some context to the film for those who haven’t seen the play. I can see where an intimate familiarity with the various stage productions would enhance one’s film-viewing experience. Kirgo and Redman compare the two iterations of American Buffalo at great length and it’s a worthwhile discussion. Kirgo also contributes a new essay in the Blu-ray booklet.

To order the limited edition American Buffalo Blu-ray, visit Twilight Time’s exclusive distributor Screen Archives. Their other recent limited edition titles include: Hombre, Mississippi Burning, A Man For All Seasons, and Carla's Song.

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Chaz Lipp writes for The Morton Report.

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