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Movie Review

Forster Wears This 'Diamond' Well

A small tale about gem salesmen gets a big boost from the actor, who quietly adds depth.

November 30, 2001|KENNETH TURAN | TIMES FILM CRITIC

"Diamond Men" is a very small film but a sweet one, an easygoing venture of the feel-good variety. What sets it apart is something even larger pictures often lack: an excellent performance by its star.

Robert Forster is something of a cult figure among working actors. His career began with high-profile roles in John Huston's "Reflections in a Golden Eye" and Haskell Wexler's "Medium Cool," the start of what Forster himself refers to as "a five-year upward first act and a 25-year, sliding second act." The slide ended in 1997, when Forster was nominated for the best supporting actor Oscar for playing been-there bail bondsman Max Cherry in "Jackie Brown," a role Quentin Tarantino wrote with Forster in mind.

Watching "Diamond Men," it's easy to see what the fuss about Forster is about. The actor has a gift for simply existing on the screen, for bringing an almost casual but unmistakable depth and dignity to roles. He's a quintessentially quiet actor, but there is more reality in his deliberateness than in other performers' frenzy. "You have the most amazing aura of stability," a character says about him in "Diamond Men," and that's never been more evident than here.

If Forster is a veteran, writer-director Daniel M. Cohen is not. Though he's previously written scripts and worked in the theater, this is the first film he's directed. But what Cohen brings to the table is real-life experience. He is a third-generation diamond man, and he has infused his film with an intimate knowledge of these salesmen, who travel through decidedly unglamorous territories carrying up to a million dollars in precious stones.

Eddie Miller (Forster) is just such a diamond man. He's been on the road in central Pennsylvania for 30 years, and not only has he never missed a week, he's also never been robbed, because he understands the value of being careful and keeping a low profile.

But Eddie has a heart attack in the film's first sequence, and though he completely recovers, he is less insurable, and the company he's worked for, which has been swallowed by a conglomerate, is consequently less eager to keep him on. The only job he's offered is the chance to break in his much younger replacement, Bobby Walker (Donnie Wahlberg).

Brash and clueless, Bobby, whose only experience on the road has been with a pretzel company, is everything Eddie is not. While Eddie's success has to do with his willingness to spend time with his customers, Bobby is always in a rush. While Eddie's idea of a satisfying evening is doing a crossword puzzle in bed, everything Bobby does, from what he drives ("Chicks love this car") to the cologne he wears ("It's a babe magnet") has one goal in mind.

The odd couple cultural clash between Bobby and Eddie is "Diamond Men's" most successful aspect and works to both actors' advantage. The looks of distaste Forster's Eddie gives his young companion are wonderful, and Wahlberg (whose credits include membership in New Kids on the Block and HBO 's "Band of Brothers") has the right kind of energy to be an effective foil for his older partner.

Sooner than you might think, the men are pals, with Eddie passing on sage advice ("Don't leave Chinese food in the car overnight") and Bobby trying to help the older man, whose wife recently died, to get out and meet some women. That eventually leads to Katie (Bess Armstrong), a mysterious individual who appreciates Eddie's old-fashioned virtues.

Though it has its charms, the section of "Diamond Men" devoted to romance is not as satisfying as its guys-being-guys moments. Also, the film is determined to get more heavily into plot as it goes along, not the best choice. But though "Diamond Men" may falter, it never gives up on believing in its people, and they come through for it in the end.

*

Unrated. Times guidelines: language, some nudity and sexual situations.

"Diamond Men"

Robert Forster...Eddie Miller

Donnie Wahlberg...Bobby Walker

Bess Armstrong...Katie Harnist

Jasmine Guy...Tina

A DMC Films in association with Sidekick Entertainment and Shiprock Productions presentation, released by Pandora Entertainment. Director Daniel M. Cohen. Producer Daniel M. Cohen. Executive producers Robert Edwin Field, Robert Forster. Screenplay Daniel M. Cohen. Cinematographer John Huneck. Editor Rick Derby. Music Garrett Parks. Production design Randal P. Earnest. Running time 1 hour, 40 minutes.

In limited release.

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