Judge Patrick Bromley says the title refers to neither an operating system, fast food, nor smarmy gangsters. But it does have John Turturro in it.
"You know what I think happiness is? To love your job."
The directorial debut of Jesus the Bowler.
Facts of the Case
In 1950s New York, three Italian-American brothers—Mac (John Turturro, Barton Fink, The Big Lebowski), the hotheaded perfectionist, Bruno (Carl Capotorto, Riding in Cars With Boys), the sensitive artist, and Vico (Michael Badalucco, Summer of Sam, The Practice), the horny one—live together in the shadow of their recently deceased father. When Mac gets them all fired from their job building houses, the brothers start their own construction business with the help of Mac's new wife (Katherine Borowitz, The Man Who Wasn't There). Mac's stubborn temper and insistence on perfection begin to take their toll on the relationship between the brothers, as each man reevaluates what it means to find happiness in his work—and in his life.
Take this for what it's worth: watching John Turturro's Mac, I was reminded of Edward Burns's The Brothers McMullen. Both films deal with groups of three brothers, and both groups are the sons of immigrants (McMullen's boys are Irish-American, while Mac's brothers are Italian-American). Both films take place in New York; both are from first-time writer/directors. The major difference between the two films is that Mac has a purpose—it's actually about something. No knock to Ed Burns—I've enjoyed most of his films—but McMullen, while cute, has never seemed to be much more than an assemblage of would-be-Woody dialogue exchanges and sitcom-style comedy; it serves as Burns' audition reel for a major studio picture (which turned out to be She's the One).
The Turturro film, however, is more emotionally rich and mature; there are none of the McMullen-style sitcom sequences to be found. Turturro is less interested than Burns in exploring the relationships of the brothers and their female counterparts (there is, actually, only one significant female character in the film); Mac would rather focus on its title character, Niccolo "Mac" Vitelli. That's essentially what the film is: a character study, examining a man so devoted to his work it consumes his ability to relate to the world around him—not in the clichéd "you're spending too much time at the office" way, but rather in an "I'm so passionate about what I do that you can not and will not understand me" way.
While the other two brothers receive their share of screen time, their characters are not explored to the depths that Mac is; both Bruno and Vico exist primarily in the context of their relationship to Mac. When Bruno's slowed reflexes (he had stayed out too late the previous night) inhibit him from preventing an accident on the job, the incident plays out in Mac's reactions—the disappointment and shame he has for his brother, who does not take his work half as seriously as Mac. Vico, the youngest and most artistic of the three brothers, is pretty much there to drive the plot, in that he is the primary voice of dissent in the family and triggers the disintegration of the family business. Both Capotorto and Badalucco have great, character-actor Italian faces, and both turn in respectable performances. That they end up as little more than foils to Turturro's Mac is not their fault, but rather the function of a screenplay designed to service Turturro—which it does magnificently.
This is not to classify Mac as some sort of vanity project. Turturro has hardly written himself the kind of "important" or potentially Messianic role often associated with those kinds of star-helmed films (The Postman, anyone?). On the contrary, his character, Mac, is utterly ordinary, distinguished only by his professional integrity and a rather passionate proclivity to throw a tantrum now and ask questions…probably never. Mac is not necessarily a man to be liked; his fits and overreactions are sometimes funny, sometimes scary, and always abrasive. While he doesn't really inspire affection in any way, he does inspire respect—Turturro has developed Mac as a man who values quality over the bottom line. Turturro has played his share of unsympathetic characters—Pino in Do the Right Thing, or Bernie Birnbaum in Miller's Crossing—but Mac is a different animal altogether. Although his portrayal of Mac could definitely be categorized as unlikable, we end up somewhat emotionally divided; while he don't particularly like Mac, we can't help but see within him a sense of pride that's difficult to come by in today's world. It's a brave performance.
One sequence in the film remains with me, striking me in a way I may not be able to fully articulate. About halfway through the film, as Mac is looking for contractors to assist in his new construction venture, he approaches a man laying brick. Turturro the director simply turns the camera on the brick laying—not the bricklayer—and allows us to watch, for several minutes, the process of laying brick. While this may not sound like a thrilling sequence, I was actually more enthralled by it than just about any car chase in recent memory. Why? Because I realized that I had never seen that before, and I love it when a movie can show me something new. That sequence alone summarizes what is at the heart of the film—the significance and pride of building something out of nothing with your bare hands.
The film, we learn, is dedicated to Turturro's father, who built houses for a living. When, at the film's end, Mac stands in front of a house with his son and tells him "I built that," it becomes clear that Turturro has made the film not just as a tribute to his father, but as a means of understanding who his father was. As his father's actual voice is heard on an answering machine message prior to the end credits (repeating the name "John" in the exact way characters in the film accuse Mac of doing), we can't help but smile. We've gotten to know this man, and to appreciate the mark he has left on the world. His legacy exists not only in the houses he built, but in his son John as well—and especially in this film.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
The disc itself is the major letdown here; not only is the transfer extremely grainy and hazy, but only a standard Dolby 2.0 audio track is included (at least there aren't any explosions or anything). There are no alternate language tracks or subtitles, presumably because everyone speaks English, right? The benefits of DVD really aren't on display at all here—all you're getting is a widescreen (it's anamorphic, so perhaps we should count our blessings) version of a film that you might otherwise have a hard time finding, which DVD has been pretty good for. Sadly, there is no Turturro commentary; a discussion of his experiences and influences (he's worked with both the Coen brothers and Spike Lee in multiple films), and how they might pertain to his first filmmaking venture, would have been a nice inclusion. The only extras to be found are three trailers—for Anger Management, Big Night, and Boyz N the Hood—which pop up automatically when the disc is put in. (A very annoying feature, especially because the trailers can't be bypassed. Will the same people that like Mac really like Anger Management? Did anyone like Anger Management?). The trailers cannot be accessed any other way.
An intimate, deeply personal film, Mac isn't for everyone; it's light on plot, and its protagonist is not terribly likeable. For patient viewers looking for an original, compelling, and modest picture, it's most definitely worth a look. If nothing else, you'll walk away with a deeper appreciation of what it means to take pride in your work (insert ironically intentional punctuation/grammatical error here).
Columbia TriStar is found guilty of neglect, releasing a disappointing disc of a fine film. The Court mandates the release of a Superbit edition of Just One of the Guys.
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