Diamond Men Movie Review

Last year, Ned Beatty was given tribute by writer-director Tom Gilroy in Spring Forward, inhabiting a beautifully written role as a weathered park ranger. Another true actor's actor, Robert Forster, is given his full measure as aging diamond salesman Eddie Miller in Diamond Men. Forster, best known to younger audiences as laconic bail bondsman Max Cherry in Quentin Tarantino's Jackie Brown, has quite a history behind him. His underappreciated body of work includes a hardcore television journalist in Haskell Wexler's masterpiece, Medium Cool (1969), and his debut as a quiet soldier who becomes the object of Marlon Brando's desire in John Huston's complex Reflections in a Golden Eye (1967).

With Diamond Men, Forster effortlessly becomes one with his surroundings. Carrying a "live line" of diamonds (in a black briefcase) on the road as he travels from one small-town business to another in rural Pennsylvania, he's familiar with dingy coffee shops and cheap, out-of-the-way motels, comfortable with the interior of his Lincoln Town Car and his predetermined routine. He's an older man with a heart condition, 30 years peddling his wares, but Forster doesn't choose to arouse pathos in this tightly wound curmudgeon. Eddie's personality is best described as an undisclosed poker hand: quiet, inconspicuous, intense. With his tough, wrinkled face and world-weary disposition, Forster creates one of his most memorable characterizations and writer-director Daniel M. Cohen wisely uses him to carry the movie. He's in almost every scene, and Diamond Men is graced by that weighty presence. (The other main character is Eddie's world of highways and hotel rooms, photographed with unobtrusive sensitivity by John Huneck.)

Cohen finds an understated, assured tone of realism right from the opening scene, where Forster collapses in a parking lot. Eddie's a professional who handles his work with the ease drawn from years of experience, but after his recent heart problems he's no longer considered "insurable" to carry a million-dollar line of jewels unless he brings along his hotheaded young replacement, Bobby Walker (former New Kid on the Block Donnie Wahlberg, a fine actor). How is Eddie supposed to train this kid? Bobby can barely sit still for a minute, rattles off at the mouth with a stream of obnoxious anecdotes recounting sexual conquests, and is evidently more interested in getting laid than studying the art of Eddie's trade.

Things don't look so good for this particular odd couple. It's one of those convenient pairings of opposites that defines so many movies. Diamond Men depends on strong performances and assured writing to pull it off. As a writer, Cohen brings firsthand experience of the diamond business, emerging from three generations of roadside salesmen. He makes astute use of locations, particularly the seedy backwoods massage parlor known as the Altoona Riding Club, where frumpy masseuses are known to dole out special favors for the right price. Bobby is able to drag his new pal Eddie to this borderline house of ill-repute after some tentative bonding, where the older salesman's self-imposed walls are gradually broken down, opening him up to new experiences he'd never dreamed of. The scenes at this makeshift brothel feel emotionally honest, both in Eddie's embarrassed resignation to undressing and the women's unfocused, workaday attitude to strange men from The Road.

There's a threat of danger from some young hoods that catch wise to Eddie's live load of diamonds. It's a plot point that has destroyed other independent films: L.I.E. suffers from a climax of violence after developing an unforced, discreet relationship between the child molester and his young prey; Ulee's Gold loses interest in developing Peter Fonda's rich beekeeper characterization by tossing in a clumsy robbery. Diamond Men almost falls into the same trap, touching on this pedestrian subplot and almost running off the rails with the threat of violence. Cohen thankfully doesn't stray too far from his character-driven story, using the robbery device to unfurl his true climax, one that tests the values Eddie Miller has stood behind for years. Less Quentin Tarantino than Arthur Miller, Eddie is asked to face up to his own life, something that might never have happened if fast-talking Bobby hadn't drawn him out of his shell. The potential robbery doesn't figure in as the climax; Diamond Men has larger, more personalized issues at stake. The finale proves as elusive as it is satisfactory.

Like Spring Forward, Daniel M. Cohen has created what might be considered a "small" movie about everyday characters taking cautious steps toward (or away from) wisdom. It's lightweight, if the discovery of friendship can be considered "lightweight," but there's a place for movies that exist in much the same manner as the quaint corner store in an emerging (or dying) town. You'd rather go there than the shopping mall, if only for the character and personality. Diamond Men is small, but certainly assured.

Diamonds in the rough.

Cast & Crew

Director : Daniel M. Cohen

Producer : Daniel M. Cohen

Comments

Diamond Men Rating

" Excellent "

Rating: NR, 2001

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