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Wag the Dog

movie reviewmovie reviewmovie review out of 4

All-Reviews.com Movie Review: Wag the Dog

Starring: Dustin Hoffman, Robert De Niro
Director: Barry Levinson
Rated: R
RunTime: 97 Minutes
Release Date: December 1997
Genres: Comedy, Drama


*Also starring: Anne Heche, Denis Leary, Woody Harrelson, William H. Macy, Andrea Martin, Michael Belson, Suzanne Cryer, John Michael Higgins



Review by Walter Frith
4 stars out of 4

In order to make true movie satire work, you have to keep the running time relatively short and the target of your subject matter should be something or someone that movie audiences despise. 1964's 'Dr Strangelove' which elevated director Stanley Kubrick's career and showed

technology running amok and the eventual dehumanization of 'the system' for which Kubrick became famous, was an important first step in the intellectual progression of movie making which allowed its creators to become more daring with every attempt.

When I first saw screenwriter Paddy Chayefsky's 'Network', made in 1976,

a scathing satire and indictment of the television industry, I was completely taken with its message of powerful corporate types engaged in

an illegal lust for power by doing whatever was necessary to keep their television company on top of the world, including killing a former news anchorman turned tabloid prophet because he had low ratings. I never thought I would see such a film again and I still haven't but 'Wag the Dog' is the best satire I've seen since the two movies mentioned above were made.

'Wag the Dog' hides nothing from the audience in showing political advisers counting on the major population's lack of attention span and virtually insulting the average person's intelligence in diverting the facts away from the real issues of presidential misconduct. The current

president is accused of having sex with a teen aged girl who belongs to an organization similar to the girl scouts and the election is less than

two weeks away. The president's opponents get wind of the story and use

it to their advantage.

This movie showcases the theory that asks: "If a tree falls in the forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound"? You'll find this to be true as the film dives right in in the opening ten minutes and shows the president's top advisers meeting with a political spin doctor (Robert De Niro) who is an expert at drawing the public's attention away from the facts by using the media. It's a meeting that takes place deep within the farthest basement of the White House and although the public never sees these meetings, we know they take place. 'Network' used the medium of television and accomplished the task of increasing public cynicism for the greater good of shaking up 'the system' and now 'Wag the Dog' does the same in a different story.

To truly accomplish the mission, De Niro and a top aid to the president (Anne Heche), travel to Los Angeles to seek the help of a top Hollywood producer (Dustin Hoffman) to succeed in their task. After explaining the situation, Hoffman is both shocked and somewhat fascinated with the prospect of engaging in a deliciously tempting project, seduced by the fraudulent aspects of it and the challenge of creating a fraud and if the public buys it, Hoffman knows it will be the best work of his career

even though he can't ever tell anybody about it.

Hoffman's portrayal of this magnificent character is one of brash vanity

combined with a slightly eccentric twist of personality. De Niro is somewhat sedated in his role but it is clear that his character is one of a low profile so audiences shouldn't mistake it as a slacking performance, just one suitable to the movie's plot.

Based on the book 'American Hero' by Larry Beinhart, Hilary Henkin and David Mamet's script has a back up plan, a plan 'b' if you will, that takes shape in light of the partially failed attempt by the movie's characters to totally carry out the plan outlined in the basic plot. It

moves to create a false sense of hope and patriotism among the public that makes the presidential scandal at hand mild and innocuous.

Barry Levinson's light handed direction and crafty decision to make the screenplay the picture's real star are balanced with the cast's willingness to do the same and at a running time of 96 minutes, 'Wag the

Dog' has a conclusion which enforces its basic theme and message of deception while never losing sight of the fact that it's a comedy!

Copyright 1997 Walter Frith

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