Wag the Dog - Movie Reviews - Rotten Tomatoes

Wag the Dog Reviews

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Super Reviewer
½ October 6, 2010
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.
Super Reviewer
½ July 26, 2013
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.
Super Reviewer
½ May 14, 2012
"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.
Super Reviewer
August 3, 2006
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.
Super Reviewer
½ June 15, 2006
One of the rare cases of reality catching up to a satire movie sooner than you can blink. The story of the spin doctors creating a fictitious war to distract from the US president's sex affair with a minor may sound over the top but is about as realistic as they come. Of course the details get more and more outrageous, as they should in a decent media satire. The acting is top notch, deNiro and Hoffman are particularly hilarious, the writing smart and poignant. The things the film has to say about politics and media are sad, funny and true, yet it's never preachy and stays entertaining and tongue in cheek.
Super Reviewer
September 8, 2007
"Political crisis"? Here's a bit that enlightens that particular oxymoron. Starts with a bang but finishes less than so yet is nonetheless entertaining. Hoffman is touching as the artist dying for attention and Deniro turns in a working man's performance as the Washington smooze, sure of his power.
Super Reviewer
½ March 30, 2008
Yet, another brilliant movie from Barry Levinson I already watched besides 'Rain Man'... The story about president's sex scandal just a few days before election and they hire a great Hollywood producer for making an excuse to cover-up the scandals and it turns into a huge success... An Oscar nominee for Best Adapted Screenplay proves that the story of this movie was great... Yet, Dustin Hoffman gave another Oscar-worth performance to watch and he earned it by playing a successful Hollywood producer who never gets a credit for his work, but when his masterpiece for covering president's sex scandal was a huge success, he betrays the agreement and trying to tell the American of this masterpiece... Robert DeNiro and Anne Heche gave another great performance too, and the cast become more outstanding with another performance from Woody Harrelson, Denis Leary, Willie Nelson, even short William H. Macy performance... Overall, this movie was totally recommended by me as you will know a little more trick about making movies in Hollywood, but this movie has pretty much scenes with a long conversation and they talked about politics, so don't watch if you can't stand again politics movie before, even I admit I can't stand political movies before but I love this one...
Super Reviewer
October 7, 2007
An entertaining if flawed satire concerning a spin doctor (Robert De Niro) and a Hollywood producer (Dustin Hoffman) and how they come to the aide of the President of the United States after he's accused of having an affair with an underage girl two weeks before the election. While the pace is appropriately fast-paced, it is deliberately this way so you don't get to thinking about the plot-holes this movie possesses (such as the way the press would cover this story - no one from the press would want to be present in Albania covering it from a first-person perspective?). It is well-made though, and Hoffman is an absolute blast in this, with enough comic relief put in place (Willie Nelson and Woody Harrelson, to name a few) to compensate for the few problems it has. If you want to see an effective, funny film concerning politics and people's belief in the press - this is the movie for you.
Super Reviewer
August 22, 2009
A very observational satirical comedy that could have had more of an impact, if it had taken things more seriously. The film is still relevant today, as a White House spin doctor and a Hollywood producer team up in an attempt to cover up a sex scandal. They create a fake war/conflict with varying degrees of laughs. A fake bit of footage, a song or two and Woody Harrelson's convict/"war hero". De Niro and Hoffman are fantastic and are supported by a large array of talent in smaller roles. Wag the Dog shows how unscrupulous politicians and Hollywood producers can be. The scariest thing about this film is that it isn't too far fetched to believe something like this could happen
Super Reviewer
July 20, 2009
Hilarious political satire about the lengths spin doctors will go to secure the re-election of a president. A great cast list, with the pairing of De Niro & Dustin Hoffman, in particular, making a surprisingly good comedy duo. In the late-90s this could easily have been mistaken for yet another conspiracy theory movie, but more than 10 years later it's almost prophetic!
Super Reviewer
½ July 26, 2007
There's a lot to love about this film, just not enough to give it 4 or more stars.
Super Reviewer
October 20, 2008
Before Meet the Fockers De Niro and Hoffman came together in the political comedy Wag the Dog. De Niro plays a spin doctor for an incumbent President seeking re-election who is facing a sex scandal. He enlists the help of a Hollywood producer (Hoffman) and his clan to produce a war to deflect the public eye from the indiscretion.

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.
Super Reviewer
½ January 14, 2008
This rings even more true today, the thing is, the Irak war was not faked at all.

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.
Super Reviewer
May 30, 2006
CIA Agent Mr. Young: There are two things I know to be true. There's no difference between good flan and bad flan, and there is no war."

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?
Super Reviewer
July 30, 2007
Funny. I wish I was smarter.
Super Reviewer
June 22, 2007
The selling point for this film is obviously the pairing of De Niro and Hoffman, but for me it was the potential in the idea; that backroom spin doctors manufacture a war to deflect attention from a presidential sex scandal. The initial scenes when De Niro the fixer bustles into the white house and brainstorms ideas ("why Albania?" "Why not?") and later the quickfire banter between he and Hoffman are great fun. But soonafter the satirical bite is replaced by rather feeble farce, a turn for the worse reinforced by Heche's sitcom acting talents and Woody Harrelson's buck-toothed redneck soldier. This could've been a brilliant political satire, but ultimately this dog proved to be toothless.
Super Reviewer
½ December 7, 2006
Super Reviewer
½ October 25, 2006
Just okay. The performances are kind of worthwhile...
Super Reviewer
March 9, 2013
Brilliant and well-crafted, Wag the Dog is an inspired and entertaining satire. When the President faces a scandal that could cost him the election he calls in a spin-doctor that decides to concoct a phony war in order to squash the scandal. The cast is excellent, and includes Robert De Niro, Dustin Hoffman, Anne Heche, and Denis Leary. The script is also especially good, and is full of witty political satire. Still, there are some cheesy parts and the plot gets a little contrived at times. Wag the Dog has its flaws, but overall it's and an enjoyable and fun look at the audaciousness of politics.
Super Reviewer
May 22, 2014
Hoffman and De Niro seem to have a contest as to who can bore the other more effectively. This film which could have been an interesting talking point instead becomes a forgettable food note.
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