Things Change is the second film directed by David Mamet. Throughout the ’80s and into the ’90s Mamet was the premiere American playwright of the era, but he was also an excellent director and screenwriter in film. His debut film and probably his best, House of Games, was not hugely successful despite having reviews that money couldn’t buy. Things Change is a lesser work, but it’s still impressive, especially Don Ameche and Joe Mantegna playing off each other.
It’s a pretty simple story: basically, Don Ameche’s Gino is taking the rap for a mob hit and is promised enough money to buy a fishing boat when he gets out after the three years that he is promised is all he will serve. Joe Mantegna plays Jerry, a low-level gangster who is Gino’s mob minder. Jerry decides to take Gino to Lake Tahoe for a weekend of fun before he confesses in court.
Mamet actually wrote the script with Shel Silverstein, who was mainly known as a cartoonist and songwriter—he wrote “A Boy Named Sue” for Johnny Cash. It’s a fairly light on its feet two-hander with these two guys, but when it needs to move into more dramatic territory during its last act, it never seems forced, it helps that Mantenga and Ameche are just great actors.
The cast is the usual stock company that Mamet uses for his films and plays, so obviously Mantenga; William H. Macy, who has a bit part with a bleach job that is reminiscent of Sting – not a good look; Robert Prosky, Mike Nussbaum and the magician-turned-actor Ricky Jay, amongst others. Everybody is good, but it’s really Mantenga and Ameche’s turn to shine, and all the other players know that.
Overall, Things Change is a slight film in Mamet’s oeuvre and probably suffers being stuck between House of Games and Homicide, which are both better films. However, it’s a good reminder of just how good David Mamet once was before his conversion to neo-Conservatism and eventual Trumpster in the 21st Century. It’s sad that his cultural cache is waning, but if the work you put out is increasingly sub-par, you could end up being as irrelevant as Norman Mailer… who reads Norman Mailer in 2021?
Indicator has compiled a nice package for the film with new interviews with Mamet, Mantenga, composer Alaric Rokko, and an appreciation from appreciation by comedian, musician and writer Rob Deering. The theatrical trailer and a photo gallery round off the extras on the disc. The booklet includes a new essay by Ellen Cheshire, an archival production report, extracts from interviews with David Mamet and Don Ameche, and an overview of contemporary critical response.