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Heroes of the Zeroes: State and Main

by on October 7, 2010
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Heroes of the Zeroes is Nick Rogers’ daily, alphabetical look back at the 365 best films of 2000-2009.

“State and Main”
Rated R

David Mamet, that president emeritus of hard-consonant profanity, often seems as comfortable with softer stuff as a man wearing wool in July.

But 2000’s “State and Main” — Mamet’s on-the-nose Hollywood satire — played like Preston Sturges absolved of Production-Code limitations to include pedophilic scandals. Plus, Mamet knows he can’t introduce a pothole in the first act without a car careening over it in the third.

In need of a new location, the crew for 19th-century drama “The Old Mill” descends on a Vermont hamlet, and it’s clear that pitchforks precipitated their flight from New Hampshire.

Male lead Bob Barrenger (Alec Baldwin) has a predilection for pubescent girls. His diva co-star (Sarah Jessica Parker) is about to renege on contractual nudity. The self-serving director (William H. Macy) and barking-dog producer (David Paymer) wheedle and fleece locals as necessary.

Meanwhile, a fledgling screenwriter (Philip Seymour Hoffman, an against-type romantic lead here resembling a stockier Michael C. Hall) romances a shopkeeper (Rebecca Pidgeon) and arrives at a crossroads of conscience.

Mamet peppers the shenanigans with a chorus of country folks and priceless small-town lore. And again excepting the stilted, monotonous Pidgeon, the ensemble cast is uniformly excellent.

Baldwin perfectly fumbles for well-honed faux sincerity. Clark Gregg’s unscrupulous city planner shows government and entertainment as harbingers of interchangeable scum. And no one backs up trucks of vacuous bullshit quite like Macy, backpedaling with surprising subtlety.

With farcical touches, “State and Main” poked holes in arguments of “artistic integrity,” but, as Barrenger said, “It beats workin’.”