Traveling the well-worn dramatic road blazed by Arthur Miller in "Death of a Salesman," writer and director Daniel M. Cohen puts a modern spin on the twilight years of an embattled traveling merchant.
After a heart attack, recent widower and diamond salesman Eddie Miller (Robert Forster) teeters on the edge of being downsized by the company he's given 30 years of his life. When he threatens to take his accounts to a rival business, Eddie's boss strings him along with a vague offer of future employment if he'll train newbie Bobby Walker (Donnie Wahlberg) on his small-town route.
The protagonists of "Diamond Men" fall somewhere behind the working-class characters of David Mamet and tragic, crumbling manhood of Willy Loman in "Death of a Salesman"- but they nonetheless find their own vivid landscape. The pair's ensuing generation-gap scrapes are predictable - Bobby is too pushy and crass for the modest customers, his sexual exploits too noisy and his music too trashy - but once the characters declare a truce, the movie shifts into an engaging character study of this unlikely friendship.
Bobby, once exposed to Eddie's world of responsibility and loneliness, genuinely cares for his partner's welfare. His well-meaning but ultimately comic attempt to get Eddie to "relax" at a whorehouse run by friend Tina (Jasmine Guy) illuminates the central dysfunction of both characters. After raising his children and burying his wife, the world doesn't make sense anymore to Eddie. For Bobby, it never did.
Filmmaker Cohen, following the movie logic that if diamonds are involved they either must be stolen ("Marathon Man") or eaten ("Everyone Says I Love You," "Marathon Man"), attempts an unsuccessful genre-splice in the latter half of the movie by partially turning his yarn into a caper story.
Former member of New Kids on the Block and brother to Mark Wahlberg, Donnie made a memorable cameo as Bruce Willis' shooter in "The Sixth Sense" and since has been treading water in indie features. He remains promising, but here seems more concerned with posturing himself as "cool" than in building on his character's vulnerability and delivering lines. Forster, who shares an executive-producer credit here, turns in a layered performance that starts unevenly during his opening bout with his boss. The scene stumbles, as if one or both of them were looking at cue cards, but this could be the result of the pairing of Forster with a cast that is less experienced than he is. Cohen sometimes settles for substandard or clichid performances. Most notably, opportunistic prostitute Cherry (Kristen Minter) and her inept diamond-heist gang are so over-the-top in a white-trash mode that their performances look glaringly out of place next to Forster's measured character.
Sacrificing excellent characters to an ultimately lame payoff, "Diamond Men's" potential as a diamond in the rough turn out to be more "rough" than "diamond."
Written, directed and produced by Daniel M. Cohen; photographed by John Huneck; edited by Rick Derby; production design by Randall Earnest; executive produced by Robert Forster and Robert E. Field; Artist View Entertainment release; opens Friday at the Music Box Theatre, 3733 N. Southport Ave.; 773-871-6604. Running time: 1:40. MPAA rating: R (brief nudity, language and brief violence).
Eddie Miller - Robert Forster
Bobby Walker - Donnie Wahlberg
Katie Harnish - Bess Armstrong
Tina - Jasmine Guy Tip Rountree - George Coe
Robert K. Elder is a Chicago Tribune Staff Writer.
Movie review, 'Diamond Men'
We've upgraded our reader commenting system. Learn more about the new features.
Los Angeles Times welcomes civil dialogue about our stories; you must register with the site to participate. We filter comments for language and adherence to our Terms of Service, but not for factual accuracy. By commenting, you agree to these legal terms. Please flag inappropriate comments.
Having technical problems? Check here for guidance.