||Robert Forster's somber, reserved persona is put to perfect use in "Diamond Men," a small, quietly effective portrait of male bonding between a long-time jewelry salesman and the brash young fellow he's assigned to break in as his replacement on a Pennsylvania route. Eddie Miller (Robert Forster), who's recently lost his wife and has himself suffered a heart attack, is no longer insurable--a necessary precaution for somebody who drives a million dollars in merchandise from town to town--and in order to keep working, even temporarily, he agrees to train Bobbie Walker (Donnie Wahlberg), a loud, obnoxious guy who'd previously filled vending machines with snacks, to take over the job. Initially, of course, the mismatched pair don't hit it off at all, and Bobbie seems completely incapable to learning how to deal effectively with the small-town store owners. Over time, however, the men bond; Miller becomes Walker's avuncular adviser, teaching him the tricks of the trade, and Bobbie, growing genuinely fond of his partner and considering himself a great ladies' man, tries to find some female companionship for Eddie, too. The effort eventually brings them to an out-of-the-way bordello run by Bobbie's friend Tina (Jasmine Guy), where Eddie meets Kate (Bess Armstrong), a sensitive older woman who's come to terms with her own checkered past and to whom the widower is quickly drawn.
So long as it sticks to the characters, Daniel Cohen's picture hums along nicely, sharply written, observant, and rather sweet. Forster effortlessly wins over the viewer's interest and empathy with his restrained, painstakingly constructed yet unmannered performance, and Wahlberg plays off him surprisingly well; you actually come to care about both men. There's also a very nice supporting turn from veteran George Coe, as a jeweler-friend of Miller's who has a brief fling with a very young clerk he's hired. (The females, unfortunately, are less persuasive. Guy comes across almost as a caricature, and in her effort to convey Kate's likable oddness, Armstrong adopts some overly arch poses.)
The real weakness of "Diamond Men," however, lies in the narrative detours that the picture takes toward the close, which introduce a scheming femme fatale and her nefarious cohorts, along with a twist that's meant to be amusingly quirky but is actually a bit of a cheat. The last fifteen minutes or so aren't worthy of what's preceded them; you can understand why Cohen felt the need to provide a big finish to send the audience home happy, but it would have been nice if he had resisted the inclination and concluded things on the same unforced, sensitive note he'd maintained until then.
Nonetheless the picture remains an estimable little piece, like a satisfying short story that outstays its welcome only a trifle.