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Saturday, 4 November 2017

Retro Review: American Buffalo (1996)

American Buffalo
Cast: Dustin Hoffman, Denis Franz, Sean Nelson
Genre: Drama
U.S Box Office Gross: over $665,000

Plot: Long repressed feelings of bitterness and betrayal explode when three inner-city losers plot the robbery of a valuable coin in a second-hand junk shop 

'Single-Camera Movie Elevated By The Impressive Performances & Less So Its Format'

An against-type performance by Dustin Hoffman, American Buffalo is a tad more interesting than Death of a Salesman as both films operate in a similar fashion as a single camera effort, but with Hoffman cursing and spouting out F-words aplenty. This is as wordy as I anticipated for a film based on a play, but with more colourful, and by colourful it surely was, colourful language.

Just like with Hoffman's 1970's Little Big Man, I went into this movie not expecting to enjoy or like it and given I was bored with Death of a Salesman, I believed American Buffalo would be something I wouldn't get into. Yet surprisingly, I thought this wasn't too bad.

Based on a play by David Mamet, American Buffalo's story takes place in one location with only 3 characters in Don, Bobby and Teach who have spoken dialogue parts. It's more of them verbalising their thoughts and what they are saying and so it does feel as if you are watching a film version of a play come to life. If you have seen Death of a Salesman, then in American Buffalo it's precisely the same type of movie, production-wise.

Don, a junk dealer and teenager Don, an ex-heroin junkie, look to rob a man of whom Don feels cheated him by retrieving a rare buffalo head nickel he had initially sold for $90 that turns out to be worth 10 times as much. When the aggressive Teach gets in on the act and discovers their elaborate plan, a body of lies, truths and betrayal all begin to unravel.

Dustin Hoffman was, amazing. Although at times I was little distracted by his hair, which looked as though it was a little on the greasy side and was longer and it looked weird on him. & Walt Teach is a bit of a prick also, and Hoffman brought him to life with his rage & frustration. Thankfully, he doesn't overact and exaggerate in his acting. When he is given good material to work with, he does play to his strengths and often his performances are better than some of the movies that he has been in. In American Buffalo, this appears to be the case although I did find it marginally watchable, even if Hoffman's turn does mirror Ratso Rizzo's from Midnight Cowboy, in terms of his rants and frustration.

American Buffalo is a film that is about the performances and in emphasising the performances of the main cast members as the camera pans on each and every one of them. Hoffman, Dennis Franz and Sean Nelson deliver unstoppable turns, with Hoffman unleashing a cagey side to his talents that is one step beyond that of Bernie in Hero in 1992. The conversations range from lively to entertaining and I thought the dialogue was as engaging with each scene. Although at times, the story did drift off in different directions and it was hard to see where the conversations were going, up until the final act. It did feel as though the characters were rambling on without much consideration to what it was they were talking about.

A Dustin Hoffman movie with a phenomenal Dustin Hoffman performance, and personally is far better than Death of a Salesman thanks to the colourful script that unlike the former, doesn't lag, but it is also a peculiar one with a format that would have otherwise been difficult to get used to.

Final Verdict:

It is a film that will take some getting used to and on first viewing, not everything becomes clear and succinct, here and there, but the performances are great and American Buffalo is the type of movie where you have to really focus your time and energy into the acting and the performances. Though I do understand if the single-camera format is not to everyone's taste (It's certainly isn't for me).

One of Dustin's overlooked efforts, the film gets a 7 alone, but Hoffman's impressive portrayal, as well as that of Dennis Franz & Sean Nelson's, bumps this up to an extra mark.


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