When a junkshop owner plans to steal back a valuable coin collection he doesn't reckon on the corruptive influence of his lowlife poker buddy.
When American Buffalo stampeded onto Broadway back in 1975, it thrust its young author, David Mamet, to literary stardom. This jagged and witty adaption by young director Michael Corrente is less thrusting but has enough flourishes to capture some of the glory of one of America's greatest modern plays.
Junk shop owner Danny Dubrow (Franz) figures that he sold a valuable buffalo head nickel for small change, and decides to steal it back with the aid of his young protege Bobby (Nelson). But poker buddy Teach (Hoffman) muscles Bobby out of the action, and cons Danny into robbing the customer wholesale. The tragedy that follows from Teach's wild actions forces each participant to re-examine their commitment to business and friendship.
Transporting theatre to film has always been tricky but, for the most part, American Buffalo works wonderfully. Mamet adapted the screenplay himself and, as with Glengarry Glen Ross, his studious grasp of film has expanded his own material. Exterior shots blend successfully with the action, and the rhythm is altogether more cinematic. Yet it lacks tight editing and those hemmed-in confrontations that are vital to Buffalo's theme of betrayal. Corrente instead has framed the actors at a distance - a trait that eases off the pressure, as well as the symbolism, and even causes some unnecessary confusion in the final reel. Still, what we do get are two knockout performances and an energy-draining tour de force from Hoffman.
For the dynamic script alone, the film should be seen, but don't expect the scenery to leave you breathless.