Great Lakes liners


Directed by Joe Mantegna

(Tony Mamet, Robert Forster, George Wendt, Denis Leary)

Rated: R

In his directorial debut, Joe Mantegna (The voice of Fat Tony on The Simpsons) does little more than to project the stage play Lakeboat onto a screen. Mantegna – having gained fame while acting in writer David Mamet’s plays on Broadway – stays true to Mamet’s vision in his screen adaptation of Mamet’s first play, Lakeboat.

Lakeboat is the simple story of a young man, Dale Katzman (Tony Mamet), and his summer working as a night cook on a freighter pushing across the Great Lakes. Aside from bickering about such petty things as the captain’s sandwich or whether or not one of the guys had been to Italy, there is no conflict that propels the film towards a cathartic ending. But Lakeboat is not a film that requires a climax followed by resolution. In fact, the only resolution that develops in the final five minutes is the revelation of the fate of the night cook Guigliani (an uncredited and unspoken cameo by Andy Garcia) who went missing the morning that the ship pushed off.

What makes this film work is David Mamet’s mastery of the crisp, profane, blue-collar Chicagoan dialogue. Mamet has the innate ability to capture the essence of his characters through their speech. (In this instance picture a sewing circle of ex-Sea Bee’s.) Dale’s much older bunkmate Fred (Jack Wallace) puts his finger on this point when he tells Dale “They say ‘fuck’ in direct proportion to how bored they are.”

Accentuating Mamet’s skill is a core of accomplished actors fitting the moulds of each character perfectly. Robert Forster plays the quietly contemplative Joe Pitko with such skill that it becomes hard to forget that he was nominated for an Oscar just four years ago. Denis Leary’s portrayal of the porn-perusing Fireman is on the mark as well.

While the opening montage shows the ship getting underway as everyone seems to be standing around on the deck or nattering about trivialities down below, it becomes evident that no one on this ship seems to do anything. Lakeboat is less about a freighter transporting its cargo from Chicago to its sister ports than it is a sincere portrait of men entertaining themselves through embellished conversation to avoid coming down with cabin-fever.

-Josh Duggan

Lakeboat opens today and runs through August 30 at the U Film’s Bell Auditorium.