Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Wag the Dog

Wag the Dog; Satire, USA, 1997; D: Barry Levinson, S: Dustin Hoffman, Robert De Niro, Anne Heche, Denis Leary, Kirsten Dunst, Woody Harrelson, William H. Macy, James Belushi, Andrea Martin

Two weeks before the US elections, a scandal shocks the nation: the president is accused of sexual harassment of a teenage girl, so specialists Brean and Ames hire the movie producer Stanley to stage a fake war between the US and Albania that would distract the attention of the public. That way the president becomes a hero who fights for freedom and his popularity is growing. When the CIA finds out there is no war and pulls out the US troops home, Stanley thinks of another "catalyst": he claims how Sargent Schoester was left behind on the battle front, "like on old shoe". To find an actor who would play Schoester, they engage a rapist and a psychopath from prison who dies. But the president wins the election. Stanley realizes this is the project of his life, so Brean has him assassinated.

In this deliciously wicked and twisted satire on election manipulation and staged events that control the public opinion, in the finest manner of some conspiracy theories, director Barry Levinson created a vision that actually came true when president Bill Clinton had an affair with Monica Levinsky and quickly started to bombard Iraq, which some saw as a distraction attempt. Except for the great performances by the genius Dustin Hoffman, who based his character on Robert Evans, and Robert De Niro, the movie is also crammed with numerous and vivid small performances by actors such as William H. Macy and Kirsten Dunst. Such a cynical denunciation of politics was not seen in a long time, even though "Wag the Dog" isn't as funny as it's grotesque and lacks style, but somehow works in the strangest way and takes it's free interpretation of some events to a high degree. The best joke is probably the president's election TV commercial that says: "Why change horses in midstream?" "Wag the Dog" was nominated for a BAFTA (best screenplay), 2 Oscars (David Mamet and Hilary Hankin for their insane screenplay and Dustin Hoffman as best actor) and 3 Golden Globes (best motion picture - musical or comedy, actor Dustin Hoffman, screenplay).


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