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).
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
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
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.