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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