Review by Michael Jacobson
William H. Macy, Debra Eisenstadt
Director: David Mamet
Audio: Dolby Digital Stereo
Video: Widescreen 1.66:1
Features: Theatrical Trailer
Length: 99 Minutes
Release Date: September 16, 2003
watched you for the entire semester exploit your paternal prerogative. And what
is that but rape, I swear to God!”
to statistics, acquaintance rape and sexual harassment are amongst the least reported of
all crimes. That is a tragedy.
It is also stated that they are amongst the most falsely reported as
well. That too is a tragedy.
side you take is wrong” the tagline to the film proclaims, setting the
audience up for a power struggle between a liberal college professor named John
(Macy) and his intellectually hapless student Carol (Eisenstadt).
It’s almost a line designed to make the drama immune to real criticism.
What it’s saying, in other words, is that your point of view on the
film can be dismissed either because you’re a man OR you’re a woman.
very much like the character of John, I feel myself on the defensive right out
of the box. Charges have been made
against me in a blindsiding matter, and I have been dared to prove them wrong
even though I don’t HAVE to. And
if I begin by conceding that matters such as these do intend to involve a lot of
gray area with difficulty discerning between black and white, it won’t spare
me the outrage some will feel when I say I sympathized with John.
in the film, Carol comes to him in private for help. She is failing his class, and for good reason…listening to
her try to speak intelligently is an exercise in tedium, and when we listen to
an excerpt from a report she turned in for a class, we can’t help but wonder
how the poor young woman ever got into college in the first place, writing tripe
that most junior high level English teachers would have flunked.
meeting seems friendly enough, and it seems very clear that John is not
interested in her nor attracted to her in a sexual way.
While he tries to make her feel not-so-stupid, he is
consoling...admittedly even a little patronizing. When she begins to wax hysterical, he takes her shoulders and
tries to calm her down.
is essentially act one. Act two
comes when we learn that Carol has filed sexual harassment claims against John
for that very meeting. John is up
for tenure at the college, and getting it means being able to close on a new
house for his wife and family. They
meet two more times in private, and each time, the situation grows worse for
John. Carol felt offended by
John’s patronizing attitude, by his hand on her shoulder, which she claims
doesn’t become non-sexual just because he says it isn’t, and so on. She accuses him of being elitist…and anyone who’s
attended college will know professors do tend to act that way; this is not new.
How else can a teacher teach unless both teacher and student accept the
fact that the teacher is the smarter of the two?
it grows even worse, as Carol throws in bogus accusations of battery and
attempted rape. At that point, John
has already lost his bid for tenure, and now is faced with losing his job and
criminal proceedings as well…all for simply trying to help the impossibly
Carol to blame? No.
Carol speaks constantly of her “group”, which is never named, but
whom she is acting on behalf of. Carol’s
presence in the entire movie is that of a mindless automaton, incapable of
thinking for herself, but capable of spewing back any thought or piece of
information ingrained into her by outside sources.
Was it her idea to bring a rape accusation?
Go back and watch act one again, and ask…was it even her idea to accuse
John of anything at all?
harassment is, of course, a terrible reality in today’s workplace, and should
be rooted out and corrected wherever it exists. But can we be honest with ourselves? For the wrong person, the accusation of sexual harassment is
an ugly tool and a power play, and can ruin an innocent life when wielded
falsely. It can lead to an
environment of such fear and anxiety that men feel like they have to walk on
eggshells every minute of the day. As
such, it’s an issue that requires open dialogue…men should listen to
women’s concerns about the issue, and vice versa.
brings us to the real problem with Oleanna.
This is not a film designed to promote dialogue, but rather, inspire
argument. As a stage play, author
David Mamet has spoken with surprise (and maybe even a little delight) about the
terrible fights erupting in the lobbies after the curtain fell.
Couples going out on a date would go home not speaking to each other.
film captures all of that hostility, and then some. Macy and Eisenstadt are capable actors, but spending an hour
and a half with them was like being a kid again trapped with my arguing parents.
The continual attempts to interrupt and/or out-shout one another becomes
a test of patience for the audience. And
frankly, if men and women walk away from the film arguing about the issue of
harassment, at least Mamet has kept them from discussing the merits of the film
itself, of which there are none.
is a brilliant writer, and a more-than-capable director when it comes to
adapting his own work for the screen. I
simply question his motivation with Oleanna. Art should provoke discussion, but not resentment.
is a simply staged movie with seemingly little attention paid to lighting, art
design, or cinematography. As such,
there’s nothing spectacular about the video, which looks good enough, but
doesn’t push the envelope of the medium.
Colors are generally natural looking, and images range from fairly sharp
to slightly soft, with occasional light instances of noticeable grain.
Overall, it’s perfectly watchable, but unremarkable.
simple stereo mix boasts some dynamic range from the lung power of the two
stars…there’s very little music or other audio effects to talk about.
Panning effects are well-rendered and smooth, and the track seems clean
and free from any distracting noise or interference.