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.)
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.
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.
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
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.
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
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Posted: March 21, 2004.