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PopEntertainment.com > Reviews > Movie Reviews > Spartan

MOVIE REVIEWS

SPARTAN (2004)

Starring Val Kilmer, Derek Luke, Tia Texada, Kristen Bell, William H. Macy, Ed O'Neill, Jeremie Campbell, Bob Jennings, Lionel Mark Smith, Johnny Messner, Chris LaCentra, Renato Magno, Mark Fitzgerald, Tony Mamet, Clark Gregg, Ron Butler, Stephen Culp, Lauren Bowles and David Paymer.

Screenplay by David Mamet.

Directed by David Mamet.

Distributed by Warner Brothers Pictures.  106 minutes.  Rated R.

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Spartan

Of all the screenwriters working in film, David Mamet's voice is unmistakable.  Mamet writes in short staccato bursts of elegant street verse.  His characters spit out tech speak and hard-boiled information in an economical sense... not a single word is excessive and yet at the same time every word seems to be a necessary piece of the tapestry of language.  Lots of screenwriters try to emulate Mamet, but no one else in Hollywood can really do it (Aaron Sorkin and Quentin Tarantino come closest to capturing the style, but they have a tendency to swerve off into pop culture asides.)

But his dialogue is not the only reason that Mamet is such a treasure.  In general writers specialize in either dialogue or storylines, but Mamet's plots are as intricate and surprising as his dialogue.  In a cookie-cutter world of pre-fabricated action plots, leave it to Mamet to make one that is both complex and thought-provoking.   

That's not to say this movie is perfect.  Spartan is not Mamet's best film, and it is oddly violent for him.  Yet, it is a taut and stylish spy thriller.  Still, more often than normal, the machinery is visible behind the curtain.  Certain facts are twisted or overlooked to serve plot points... something we expect from the guys who made Bad Boys II  or Rush Hour, but not from the master storyteller behind elaborate puzzle boxes like House of Games, The Spanish Prisoner and Heist.

Val Kilmer is Scott, a former marine who is now working for the Secret Service.  The President's daughter has disappeared, apparently kidnapped into a sex slavery ring in Dubai by gangsters who do not realize who she is.  Scott is more than willing to kill or be killed in order to find the girl and stop her from being taken to the Middle East.  He and his partner trail the bad guys, more than willing to shoot innocent civilians in a series of escalating violent mishaps.  It is interesting that Mamet hints some of these slaughters MAY be faked by the Feds, but he never lets the audience off the hook to know this for sure. 

The audience is picking all this up on the fly.  These are serious people doing dangerous work, they are not going to waste time sitting around explaining themselves.  Mamet trusts the audience enough to believe that they can figure it out on their own, which gives the film a rather exhilarating breakneck pace. 

Like I said, sometimes the facts are massaged to get things going... there is no way that the President's daughter is going to have only one Secret Service agent watching her, and if he was going to leave for a booty call he would be sure to get plenty of back-up.  It also seems kind of unlikely that even with a new hair color and 'do, these gangsters would not realize that they have one of the most visible women in the world, who is shown to be on magazine covers and constantly on TV. 

When the First Daughter is finally found in Dubai, it turns out that she doesn't want to go home, because she feels that her parents don't love her and she is just a face on the campaign poster.  Her father doesn't care for her and her mother is mean and she's just an embarrassment anyway.  While it is easy to see how this would be a hard way to grow up, I still think most people would assume that it is better than being forced into prostitution in the Third World. 

Also, of course, it is a standard of action films that if a name star is there and doesn't seem to have that important a role, he must be the bad guy... but still I always thought that Mamet was above that kind of lazy plotting and casting. 

Mamet's disdain for politics in general is shining through, and if you're afraid that this is a partisan attack, this President (who only once appears in the film, and that is in a news clip) seems to be a mixture of the problems on both sides... he has Clinton's horndog instincts mixed together with Bush's apparent dimness as to what is going on around him.  The politicians and political handlers seem to be completely amoral and heartless, to the point that it seems they'd rather the girl be dead than to have a scandal.

Spartan is not perfect Mamet.  There are those who might say that getting Mamet to write a simple action film is like getting Shakespeare to write an Adam Sandler film.  Still, if he is going to go for the genre, it is nice to see that Mamet isn't going to dumb it down for mass consumption.  Spartan is a hell of a lot more powerful and stimulating than any film that Arnold Schwarzenegger or The Rock have ever made.  Action movies don't have to be dumb, and here's the proof.  (3/04)

Jay S. Jacobs

Copyright 2004   PopEntertainment.com.  All rights reserved. Posted: March 21, 2004.

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Copyright 2004   PopEntertainment.com.  All rights reserved. Posted: March 21, 2004.

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