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Diamond Men (July 20/03)

Diamond Men, made on a budget that would probably cover catering costs on a big summer movie, is far more entertaining than the majority of product Hollywood churns out for one simple reason: It's got two characters that are exceedingly well-developed and interesting, to the point where it hardly matters what the movie is about.

Robert Forster stars as Eddie Miller, a veteran diamond salesman who's forced to take on a rookie after suffering a heart attack (he can't be insured if he works alone). Though Eddie initially distrusts and even dislikes Bobby Walker (Donnie Wahlberg), the two eventually become close friends - with Eddie assuming the role of mentor to Bobby's protege.

Story-wise, there's not much going on in Diamond Men. Writer/director Dan Cohen clearly has a lot of confidence in his ability to write dialogue and establish these two characters, and with good reason. It doesn't take long before Eddie and Bobby become figures that we genuinely care about, and as such, we're completely willing to follow them no matter where Cohen chooses to take them. And for the first hour of the film, he's content to just let these two men talk to each other - some of their conversations have to do with the diamond business, but mostly, they discuss their lives. These characters couldn't be more different from one another - Eddie's a grizzled and experienced salesman who's seen it all, while Bobby's goals have more to do with money and women - and yet their chemistry together is undeniable.

Aside from Cohen's keen ear for realistic-sounding dialogue, a big part of the what makes the film so effective are Forster and Wahlberg's performances. Forster, an actor who's been around since the '60s and experienced a career rejuvenation after appearing in Quentin Tarantino's Jackie Brown, is note-perfect as Eddie. Here's a guy who's come to expect as little as possible out of life (he's on the verge of being sacked and his wife died recently of cancer), and yet Forster turns this potentially unlikeable character into someone we have tremendous sympathy for. It's a remarkable performance, especially when you consider that Eddie doesn't really say much for the first half of the film. That Forster's able to create such a compelling character by relying mostly on his movement and the way he carries himself certainly says something about his abilities, and Cohen should be commended for utilizing the actor in such an effective way. As for Wahlberg, it's astounding that this former boy band survivor is rapidly emerging as one of the best young actors around. He really had his work cut out for him in co-starring with Forster, but Wahlberg is more than up to the task.

Cohen falters only towards the end, by introducing an utterly needless crime subplot. This aspect of the film serves only as a distraction from what really makes Diamond Men special, the back-and-forth banter between Eddie and Bobby. It's really a shame that Cohen felt it necessary to include such a cliched plot device to conclude his story, because the movie was just about perfect up to that point. Still, that portion of the movie is so limited it's easy enough to overlook; Diamond Men is nonetheless an incredibly entertaining look at a pair of exceedingly compelling characters.

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