Wag the Dog Reviews
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.
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.
Yes, the film is a comedy but what's really scary is that you can really see how this could be happening right now. Do you really trust the government enough to believe that these two guys don't have real life counterparts on the payroll.You'll laugh at the absurdity, but it will still seem possible. This is a more mature Dave or The American President. There isn't really a happy ending in sight. The goal is for everyone to keep their job.
A good movie for election year viewing.
Hoffman was very fun to watch, and Woody Harrelson steals the whole thing near the end with a brief but hillarious role. Mamet might bee a conservative idiot, but he still can write good stuff from time to time.
A very funny, smart political satire about spinning the truth. When the president is in trouble a week before election time, a spin doctor, played by Robert De Niro, is called in to fix things. His plan: produce a war on television to keep the American public's attention elsewhere. To do this they enlist a big Hollywood producer, played by Dustin Hoffman, to get all the necessary elements to produce a war.
Robert De Niro and Dustin Hoffman play very well off each other, and the rest of the cast, which includes Anne Heche, Denis Leary, Willie Nelson, and Woody Harrelson, is in very good form as well.
The script was written by David Mamet, and his fast and sharp dialog propels the movie forward even more. There are some very funny moments that have points of making one wonder how off the truth this can really be, even if the situations go more and more out there.
Director Barry Levinson once again shows how effective his balance of tone separating the satire from the more overtly humorous moments, as well as making this a well directed film in general.
Particularly effective are the moments involving the actual work put into giving the impression of a war and Hoffman's performance that earned him an Oscar nomination.
Conrad 'Connie' Brean: What's the thing people remember about the Gulf War? A bomb falling down a chimney. Let me tell you something: I was in the building where we filmed that with a 10-inch model made out of Legos.
Stanley Motss: Is that true?
Conrad 'Connie' Brean: Who the hell's to say?