I saw Spartan, David Mamet's latest, and was not impressed. Mamet only writes about one thing — con artists — and in this case they're government agents, black ops Secret Service types. The agents go around trying to fool people to get information but are being fooled by the higher-ups to keep them from discovering that another wing of the government is fooling the public... and it's just really hard to care. Also, they kill, maim, and deny constitutional rights to the people unlucky enough to be connected (often in tangential ways) to the case at hand. I couldn't find an interesting frame to capture, but superimpose Val Kilmer's face over that of the mustachioed dirtbag in the Abu Ghraib pictures and you've got the idea.

The fact that in Spartan the con involves the government rather than small-time hoods or real estate agents reminded me that I still hadn't seen Wag the Dog — in fact, I'd forgotten that Mamet had a hand in it — so I watched that too. It was reasonably amusing (and Kirsten Dunst's delivery of the line "these are chips" could not be better) but probably should have been a short instead of a feature... even at 93 minutes it feels padded. And of course, as has been noted by nearly everyone who's seen the film, the idea of the government staging a war to distract the public from embarrassing news is way too close to reality to feel all that satirical. So much so that the emphasis on secrecy seems overdone. At this point people know that the news is to a great extent orchestrated and even fictitious. And they don't care. The way the past few years have gone, it'd seem reasonable to expect outraged citizens to overthrow the government, or at least make big changes at the ballot box in '02; instead we've got betting pools on what this year's October Surprise will be. Staged terrorist attack? "Capture" of a captured-months-ago Osama bin Laden? Convenient death of Ronald Reagan leading to hagiographical tributes? Kerry killed in a small plane crash? In Wag the Dog, a character is murdered lest the public discover he's been stage-managing the news. By that logic, Karl Rove should be hanging from the nearest tree.

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