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Wag the Dog
  Starring: Robert De Niro, Dustin Hoffman and Anne Heche. Smaller parts are played by Denis Leary, Willie Nelson, and Woody (his part is pretty small) Harrelson. Also Kirsten Dunst, William H. Macy and Andrea Martin.

Screenplay by: David ?deserves to be underlined? Mamet and Hilary Henkin (Romeo is Bleeding, Road House, Flowers in the Attic). Based on a novel by Larry Beinhart in which he describes how President Bush I and Sadaam Hussein stages the First Gulf War.

Dirtected by: Barry ?he?s a busy guy? Levison (Analyze That, Bandits, The Perfect Storm, An Everlasting Peace, Liberty Heights, Sphere, Donnie Brasco, Sleepers, Rain Man, Good Morning Vietnam, Tin Men, Young Sherlock Holmes, The Natural,? to name a few).

Produced by: Levison, De Niro and Jane Rosenthal (Analyze That, Meet the Parents, Showtime).

The Goods

With a cast and crew like this it hardly needs to be said that this is a good film. Add the huge creative power of those involved to a well written and timely story about the media being ?used? for political gain and you have a definite winner of a flick.

According to one write up, this movie was filmed in 29 days for just under $15,000,000 (not a lot of ?movie? money I guess). In it, the President is accused of fondling a 15 year-old girl (whether he did or not is hardly important) and Anne Heche (a Presidental Assistant) brings in Robert De Niro (a ?fix it man?) to deal with the mess.

De Niro brings Hoffman (a Hollywood movie producer) on board to produce a fictional war that will keep the headlines off the young girl?s story until the election is over in 11 days. Drama and Comedy ensue.

This is an awesome movie.

One important aspect of this movie that makes it so worthwhile is that it does not tell the story of manipulation from an ethical point of view. That is, no one in the movie appears to be anything more than amoral about tricking the media and the American public. The motivation of the main characters is either not given (in the case of De Niro who is doing his job) or simple (in the case of Hoffman, who is in it for the challenge). While obviously critical in its satire, this movie still manages to question rather than openly condemn. In short, the question of whether the actions of the characters are right or wrong (while pretty obviously the latter) is not dealt with directly. It doesn?t need to be.

The answer to whether these tactics are morally correct or even how close they are to being true should be obvious to most people. However, no matter what your views on the basic premise, I think this movie is going to work for you.

Because of the moral ambiguity of this movie, to someone who believed that the government really did work exactly the way it is portrayed, the movie would become simply a really good comedy about people involved in a real-life situation. To someone, like me, who believes that this is the ?sort? of thing that the American government does (only not in such a ?produced? way), this movie is a good comedy and a good criticism/warning about how terrible a capitalist/democracy can be. To those who feel that this is the exact way that political crises should be handled (say, President Bush II and his cabal), this movie borders on a hilariously funny instructional video.

If there is any failure of this movie it might be that the moral lessons and political criticism are aimed to directly at those who already believe. Hoffman and Di Nero are preaching to the converted and no one is going to get it if they already disagree with the criticism the movie carries with it. In a way this is nice because some of us get to be ?in? on the criticism but in other ways it is a wasted message.

What makes this movie great is the obvious fun that the cast had making it (particularly Hoffman). One gets the impression that there are an absolute bevy of inside jokes aimed at the movie industry and not at the audience. Being left out of these secret jokes hardly matters to the viewer though because the entire cast looks like they are having such a good time while they perform at the highest level that one has come to expect from each of them.

If you have not seen this movie, watch it. Like I have said, you do not have to buy into the whole conspiracy theory to truly enjoy this film (although a healthy scepticism about Western politics would help). There are so many levels upon which to enjoy this movie that I am absolutely certain you will find at least one.

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