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Wag the Dog (1997)



Average Rating: 7.4/10
Reviews Counted: 72
Fresh: 61 | Rotten: 11

Smart, well-acted, and uncomfortably prescient political satire from director Barry Levinson and and all-star cast.


Average Rating: 7.2/10
Critic Reviews: 19
Fresh: 16 | Rotten: 3

Smart, well-acted, and uncomfortably prescient political satire from director Barry Levinson and and all-star cast.



liked it
Average Rating: 3.4/5
User Ratings: 43,774

My Rating

Movie Info

In a 29-day shoot, Barry Levinson filmed this $15 million political and media satire, adapted by Hilary Henkin and David Mamet from Larry Beinhart's novel, American Hero. Two weeks prior to re-election, the President (Michael Belson) is accused of cornering an underage girl in the Oval Office. To keep the media from learning of this, Presidential adviser Winifred Ames (Anne Heche) brings in political consultant and spin doctor Conrad Brean (Robert De Niro), a specialist in such salvage



Hilary Henkin, David Mamet, Chloe King

Jul 28, 1998

New Line Cinema

Watch It Now


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All Critics (73) | Top Critics (19) | Fresh (61) | Rotten (11) | DVD (12)

Hilary Henkin and David Mamet's script is gleefully hyperbolic without ever straying from its political target.

March 30, 2009 Full Review Source: Chicago Reader
Chicago Reader
Top Critic IconTop Critic

Lazily assembled by director Levinson, it slides into a series of soft, extended skits on engineering a media war, not helped by several badly handled leaps in the story.

January 26, 2006 Full Review Source: Time Out
Time Out
Top Critic IconTop Critic

Amusing as it is, Wag The Dog does what it purports to sat irize -- the bark is real but the teeth aren't.

April 12, 2002 Full Review Source: Globe and Mail
Globe and Mail
Top Critic IconTop Critic

The pacing is crisp, the dialogue quippy and fast, the tone arch but energetic.

February 14, 2001 Full Review Source: Variety
Top Critic IconTop Critic

A wicked smart satire on the interlocking worlds of politics and show business, Wag the Dog confirms every awful thought you've ever had about media manipulation and the gullibility of the American public.

February 14, 2001 Full Review Source: Los Angeles Times
Los Angeles Times
Top Critic IconTop Critic

Wag the Dog could have been a one-joke scenario, but it's consistently rescued from monotony by a smart script.

January 1, 2000
Top Critic IconTop Critic

'Wag the Dog,' a movie that's fun to see more than once, comes across as a bitingly funny satire of politics, the media and show business.

September 25, 2011 Full Review Source: ReelTalk Movie Reviews
ReelTalk Movie Reviews

Entertaining, creepily resonant political comedy.

December 18, 2010 Full Review Source: Common Sense Media
Common Sense Media

Smart political satire from director Barry Levinson.

March 30, 2009 Full Review Source: Film4

Anyone who would be inherently interested in this kind of sendup is unlikely to be surprised by anything in this film -- overall it feels like a trifle, if an entertaining one.

March 30, 2009 Full Review Source: TV Guide's Movie Guide
TV Guide's Movie Guide

Twisty and flat-out hilarious.

March 29, 2009 Full Review Source:

Feels tossed-off and casual in the best way.

July 24, 2007 Full Review Source:

Strong performances abound in the film.

May 9, 2007 Full Review Source: Houston Community Newspapers
Houston Community Newspapers

I doubt it will age as well as Network, but it is close to that realm of brilliance.

October 16, 2006 Full Review Source: Combustible Celluloid
Combustible Celluloid

Beyond a couple of hilarious zingers, its impact feels smug and minor.

December 6, 2005 Full Review Source: Film Threat
Film Threat

Brilliantly scripted and acted to the point where even Barry Levinson's typically uninspired direction doesn't matter.

September 17, 2005 Full Review Source: Mountain Xpress (Asheville, NC)
Mountain Xpress (Asheville, NC)

Levinson has created a surprising quickie that satirically strikes out at our political system, the media (easy target) and the whole business of image versus reality.

April 9, 2005 Full Review Source: Reeling Reviews
Reeling Reviews

It is fun when people with Hollywood clout decide to do something as fast and loose as this...

January 29, 2005 Full Review Source: Arkansas Democrat-Gazette
Arkansas Democrat-Gazette

It's half a brilliant political satire, half a wacky outrageous comedy of errors. The first half works, the second half doesn't.

January 15, 2005 Full Review Source: Looking Closer
Looking Closer

A film that, for every scene of genuine hilarity, all too often just lies there smirking at itself about how darn clever it is.

December 18, 2004 Full Review Source:

Very relevant not only for 1990s, but also for generations to come.

March 3, 2004 Full Review

Hollywood meets Washington.

April 29, 2003 Full Review Source: Ozus' World Movie Reviews | Comment (1)
Ozus' World Movie Reviews

...Fun, but not very believable.

February 8, 2003 Full Review Source: Film Quips Online | Comments (3)
Film Quips Online

A hilarious, acerbic political satire of a kind rarely seen on American screens.

October 15, 2002 Full Review Source: Cincinnati Enquirer
Cincinnati Enquirer

Audience Reviews for Wag the Dog

This eccentric little dark comedy was perfectly timed upon its release, a year before the Clinton affair went public. The film deals with a conspiracy to cover up the POTUS' sex scandal with a younger girl by pretending that there will be a war in Albania, on the eve of the election. The film is very dark, filled with one-off performances by everybody from Woody Harrelson to Willie Nelson, and captures the behind the scenes tension of White House politics. Dustin Hoffman was nominated for Best Actor for this film because his portrayal of Motss is enigmatic. Motss is selfish, egotistical, and without any moral capacity. Robert De Niro is also entertaining, but his character mostly stands at the sidelines, happy to be invisible for the benefit of his job, the opposite of Motss. Overall it's a very solid, if unnerving piece of political satire that tickles the funny bone while revealing the darkness of American politics.
June 25, 2014

Super Reviewer

Wag the Dog is an average dark comedy that relies on a great cast and an effective script. Enjoyable, but could have been better, this film is a bit dull at times and suffers from a so-so script. The idea is good, but the result is a decent film that just touches the surface of what it tries to accomplish. The cast were quite good and they clearly try to elevate film's material. This is a decent affair, but it could have been much better than what it turned out to be. I was really looking forward to seeing this one, but I was slightly let down. I expected a much better film than this and though it has a great cast, it never becomes anything truly worthwhile to rewatch again. With its ideas, Wag the Dog could have been a standout feature, but it just ends up being a so0so movie that never really takes off. I thought that there could have been more effort put into this one, and though it is a decent film, it's also quite dull in places and it should have been better. This may appeal to viewers looking for satire, but there are some elements missing to make it the film that it should have been. Enjoyable, but flawed, Wag the Dog is decent fun with a cast that try their best at making this a film watchable experience. The idea makes this film enjoyable, but simply can't shrug off how could this one could have been otherwise. Wag the Dog is fun, and quite decent, but it could have been much better.
July 27, 2013
Jeff "The Dude" Lebowski

Super Reviewer

"A good plan today is better than a perfect plan tomorrow."

Before elections, a spin-doctor and a Hollywood producer join efforts to "fabricate" a war in order to cover-up a presidential sex scandal.

A political spin doctor, Conrad Brean (Robert De Niro), and a Hollywood producer, Stanley Motss (Dustin Hoffman), both well endowed with chutzpah, set out to create the illusion that the USA has gone to war with Albania, as a distraction from a Presidential sexual peccadillo. Made and released before the Clinton-Lewinsky scandal broke, it is not clear whether the movie's makers had great insight, or inside knowledge; either way, that episode adds to the interest and relevance of the film. De Niro and Hoffman are both brilliant, though understandably the latter seems especially to relish lampooning a film-world type he must have encountered many times in his career. Anne Heche is just right as a Presidential aide who previously thought she was streetwise, but faced with Brean and Motss realises she's a tyro in the kiddology game; and Woody Harrelson has a wonderful role as the man picked to play the war hero who just happens to be a psychotic convict.

Among the targets of the satire are clearly the US political establishment, the broadcasting media and Hollywood; but there is a danger that the primary target may be overlooked, and it is worthwhile remembering the derivation of the film's title. Normally, the dog wags the tail because the dog's smarter than the tail; but if the tail was smarter, it would wag the dog; and there can be little doubt that the dog being wagged by Brean and Motss is the viewing and voting public.
May 14, 2012
Lorenzo von Matterhorn

Super Reviewer

Two weeks before election day, news gets out that the U.S. President is accused of sexual misconduct with a minor. To divert attention away from the scandal and increase the president's chances of getting re-elected, a top political spin doctor named Conrad Brean (Robert De Niro) enlists the help of a big wig Hollywood producer named Stanley Motss (Dustin Hoffman) to help create a phony war with Albania.

It's a smart and funny set up to begin with, but what really gives added edge and humor to this biting satire is that it was in production around the time of Bill Clinton's real life sex scandal, making the material even more relevant, intriguing, and thought provoking.

This is some funny stuff (usually of the dark variety though), and it really makes you wonder about what actually goes on behind the scenes in Washington, and if the stuff the media feeds us cocncerning all things politics is legit or just the product of movie magic and trickery.

Co-written by David Mamet and Hilary Henkin, and directed by Barry Levinson, this is a solid piece of work with an all star cast including (besides Hoffman and De Niro) Anne Heche, Denis Leary, Willie Nelson, Woody Harrelson, Kirsten Dunst, and Craig T. Nelson. They all deliver some good work, but it's definitely De Niro and Hoffman who steal the show.

The film is quite sharp and very well done, but it also feels rather light at times, and it seems a little underwhelming with how it ends. It ended and I was like, "is that it?" So yeah, there's some flaws here, but those aside, this is some terrific stuff, so definitely check it out.
March 18, 2012
Chris Weber

Super Reviewer

    1. Winifred Ames: We killed Ol' Shoe.
    – Submitted by Lucas B (14 months ago)
    1. Stanley Motss: Good news he's alive! Strike that!
    – Submitted by Lucas B (16 months ago)
    1. Stanley Motss: Money? You think I did this for money? I want the credit.
    – Submitted by Stan D (20 months ago)
    1. Stanley Motss: This is nothing!
    – Submitted by Chris P (3 years ago)
View all quotes (4)

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