Directed by David Mamet, starring Alec Baldwin, Philip Seymour Hoffman, William H Macy, Sarah Jessica Parker and Rebecca Pidgeon

In his essay 'Film Is A Collaborative Business', David Mamet writes, "my experience as a screenwriter is this: a script usually gets worse from the first draft on". It's a quote that has major significance for the characters in his latest offering 'State and Main', a film about making a film and Mamet's return to winning ways after the lukewarm response to 'The Winslow Boy'. Philip Seymour Hoffman plays Joseph Turner White (the first of many gags involving people's names), a hopelessly earnest rookie screenwriter whose story 'The Old Mill' is about to be committed to celluloid by Walt Price (Macy), a director who eats hopelessly earnest rookie screenwriters after he's devoured the other underlings on set. Having been forced out of one 'Old Mill' location already by dollar hungry locals, Price stumbles on Waterford, a comatose, picture perfect town whose natives seem only too happy to pitch in and help in any way they can. There's just one catch: Waterford doesn't have an Old Mill and Turner-White is dispatched with a hammer to get his screenplay into shape.

Mamet's most easy going and fun-loving film to date, 'State and Main' is witty, bitchy and the best comedy you'll see this year. The cast, many of whom are Mamet regulars (Macy, Charles Durning as the eager to please Mayor with the wife from hell, Rebecca Pidgeon as the love interest), seem to have summoned up every anecdote and experience they've heard or had in their careers to create a sweet but never sour satire on the business. In 'State and Main' no-one is as shrewd or gullible as they first appear and the collision between an industry chasing millions and a town sniffing a fast buck is beautifully handled. As the stars arrive Walt Price's worries multiply to such an extent that not having an Old Mill is the least of his problems. There's an actress (Parker) whose religious beliefs mean she can't go topless for less than $3 million, a leading man (a deliciously frothy and lecherous Baldwin) whose interest in teenage girls could destroy the picture, a local councillor who reckons that opposition to Price's film could be his ticket to the Senate and a screenwriter who must decide between his principles and the principals. Through it all Mamet keeps the ones liners flowing in his own inimitable way, Macy savaging and cajoling all and sundry in a bid to get the cameras rolling, seemingly oblivious as to whether the film is worth shooting in the first place. It's not, but Mamet's has class stamped all over it.

Harry Guerin