Unemployed and living with his artist girlfriend, Pam (Rebecca Mader), in Charlotte, N.C., rudderless Martin (Pat Healy) takes a job at a fly-by-night record company that bilks aspiring local musicians out of a few thousand dollars in exchange for some empty promises about a label deal that will never materialize. Though in the tradition of classic salesman-as-national-economic-indicator works of the past, such as Arthur Miller's Death of a Salesman, director and co-writer Craig Zobel's feature debut is most striking for its absence of indignant rage at the difficulties facing working-class Americans. Instead, a weary inevitability pervades as Martin and his partner (a subtly devastating Kene Holliday) embody an existence where everyone, no matter how high on the totem pole, is stranded on the same depressed economic plateau. A melancholy mood piece, Great World terrifically dissects the culture of lowered expectations but fizzles when satirizing our fascination with instant celebrity, shown here through real-life auditions with unsuspecting musicians who responded to phony newspaper ads looking for unsigned acts. Nonetheless, Zobel reminds us that while previous fictional salesmen have served as harsh indictments of the American Dream's dark underbelly, at least at one time we actually had a dream to believe in.
Holliday: subtly devastating.
Opens at Varsity, Fri., Oct. 5. Rated R. 106 minutes.