Love them or hate them, Roger Ebert and Gene Siskel, followed by Richard Roeper, exposed the American public to films that may never have been seen otherwise. Through their television show, they exposed films that were having difficulty getting distributed. Recently, Ebert and Roeper favorably reviewed a film called “Diamond Men”, a small independent film starring Robert Forster and Donnie Wahlberg. The film has just been released in LA. The theater for the Sunday matinee screening I attended was about ¾ full, remarkable for a film that is independent and received almost no publicity.
Eddie Miller (Robert Forster) is a traveling salesman. He drives through the small towns of Pennsylvania, selling his companies line of diamond jewelry. And he does a remarkably good job at it. After one visit, he has a heart attack, putting him on the sidelines as he recovers. Returning to work, raring to go, he learns that he can longer sell on the road. No insurance company will cover him and when he is carrying over $1 million in samples in his trunk, that becomes a serious problem. The company offers him an alternative: Train the new guy who will take over your route. Then maybe they will find something for him to do. He reluctantly agrees and soon meets his new partner, Bobby Walker (Donnie Wahlberg). Bobby is young and brash and they initially don’t get along very well.
“Diamond Men” is a very small, independent film. Robert Forster served as one of the Executive Producers and saw the film as a showcase for his acting ability. He was correct. Forster is the best thing about the film, an actor seemingly revered by other actors, his recent roles have been created to showcase his abilities. Forster has a natural, laid back quality in his characters that seems to be at odds with his age and physical size. It is this contradiction that makes these same characters so interesting. Also, Eddie is a man of a lot of experience and wisdom, a role that seems custom fit for Forster. Forster avoids showy theatrics and makes Eddie seem human. A serious man, when he finds out that he is about to lose his job, he takes the sensible approach, and accepts the temporary assignment his company offers. He goes about the business in a very workman-like way and soon finds himself reluctantly accepting the new guy under his wing. The relationship between the two men is the basis for the film and creates an engaging look at their lives.
Donnie Wahlberg is less successful, but also good. Bobby, younger, brasher, more excited, is completely the opposite of Eddie. Wahlberg doesn’t have the range of Forster and this becomes evident when his character whines and pleads with Eddie, rather than talk. At times, this behavior seems a good match for the character, but at other times it seems very showy and theatrical and draws the viewer out of the film.
As the characters criss-cross the state of Pennsylvania, Eddie reluctantly becomes Bobby’s friend and actually appears to like him. Naturally, the salesman come into contact with other people along the way. The film is always more successful when Eddie is interacting with people of his maturity. When Eddie eventually meets Katie (Bess Armstrong), the film seems to be moving along the right track. Armstrong’s character is the emotional and mature equivalent of Eddie and they make an interesting and engaging couple. When they meet, the film seems to know where it should go and how it should get there. Earlier, when Eddie meets a young prostitute, the scene is funny but also seems more at home in a television sitcom.
“Diamond Men” is a very low budget film. It is the type of film in which every interior scene is shot with the curtains closed, to control the light. But, in a way, this only makes the film better and more pleasing. Once you look past the fact that everyone has their curtains closed in the middle of the day, you start looking at the story, the relationships, the characters. Overall, they are all excellent and much more engaging than in a major Hollywood production in which twenty times the money was spent.
My biggest complaint about the film would lie in the ending. It is completely predictable, rushed and feels almost tacked on. The ending would've benefit greatly from a little more time or discussion focused on the eventual outcome.
Go see “Diamond Men” and you will be pleasantly surprised.