David Mamet spins weak circles in the new suspense drama, Spartan.
Thursday, March 11, 2004
This over-plotted and under-developed political thriller by writer/director David Mamet (Heist) painfully divulges the aging writer’s waning talents. Val Kilmer (Wonderland) plays Robert Scott, a secret ops military officer recruited to rescue the US President’s daughter after she’s kidnapped into a white slavery ring. Red herrings and gratuitously violent episodes abound as Scott and his novice Secret Service partner Curtis (Derek Luke, Pieces of April) attempt to rescue the girl regardless of government-fueled lies from the media about the predicament. David Mamet’s trademark shorthand dialogue is at times laughably stilted and artificial, along with contrived plot points that border on the absurd. As a political thriller, Spartan falls far below the mark set by films like The Parallax View (1974) or Three Days Of The Condor (1975).
Spartan opens with an obligatory thriller genre training sequence wherein special ops conscript Curtis chases Agent Grace (Tia Texada, Phone Booth) through a wooded area while their leader Scott (Kilmer) oversees the exercise. The hackneyed false start gives way to hard-edged suspense when the President’s daughter Laura Newton (Kristen Bell) is kidnapped from a college dorm in Boston because her CIA guard abandoned his post in favor of protecting the President during an adulterous visit to his mistress. Agent Scott tracks down the girl’s abduction to a local nightclub where young women are procured for older clientele. Television news reports interrupt the investigation with information that Laura Newton’s corpse has been found with her college professor in ocean waters, and sets up the central governmental espionage ploy of the movie. The President sacrifices his daughter to suppress the truth of his adultery and ensure himself a shot at the next election by using the media to disseminate lies about her death.
Spartan suffers from a similar fundamental problem to Mamet’s script for Wag The Dog. It’s not enough to present a questioning attack on the American media for conspiring with the US government to spread lies to the public. We need to see action being taken to hold factions of the government and the media accountable. If Mamet had shown the duplicity exploded in the media to a gathering throng of citizens demanding public trials, then the movie would have had somewhere to go.
David Mamet makes a tremendous error in not introducing the girl that the plot revolves around until the end of the movie. By the time we meet Laura Newton, she is a shell of a human being sustained by her craving for cigarettes. Extinct from her character is the necessary intelligence that we expect from a college-aged child of an American President. The girl’s rescue is instantaneously co-opted by politicians on television patronizing Laura Newton as the “soul” of the country. Clearly here is an example of saving one person at the cost of everyone else.
Spartan [2 stars]
Directed by David Mamet
Starring Val Kilmer, William H. Macy, Derek Luke
(Rated R 106 mins.)