Purchased for $3.99 at Second Spin, Wilshire Blvd, Santa Monica. This price made even the clerk do a double-take.

Mamet’s smoothest, most sophisticated piece of film direction, this one feels more like a “real movie” than any of his others.

Val Kilmer is swell in the lead, William H. Macy is fine as the guy smoking the cigarette, but Ed O’Neill is a revelation as the authority guy in the big suit.

When this movie came out, some snorted with derision at the political stance of the picture, which includes the observation that the president would rather kill innocent people and sell his own daughter into slavery than risk losing an election. At this point of our national nightmare, that kind of news item would be noted on page A17.

The photography is silky smooth and seductive, and the production design is the best of Mamet’s films. You get the idea that he’s really starting to get the hang of this art form.


There are a number of plot contrivances that do not detract from the overall pleasure of the experience. They are:

1. The Girl has a logo, a little emoticon [ %-) ] (so, Mr. “I only write on a portable Smith-Corona in a cabin heated with a wood fire” Mamet is familiar with the computer, after all!). This emoticon (or “device”) becomes a key plot point, as it shows up in the windows of both places where the girl is held against her will.

Derek Luke (Val’s Little Pal #1) “sees the sign” in the window and thus we know that the girl is not dead. Okay then, good enough.

But wait! Derek also found her earring at the house, so why did we need the sign?

My question: why did the girl put her logo in the window of her captor’s house? The only thing I can think of is that she was hoping that the Delta Force guys would see it and thus know that she’s in the house, without her captors knowing.

But why would she know that the Delta Force guys are coming? And if she knows they’re coming, why would she need to put the sign in the window? What would it matter? And then she does it at the second place in Dubai too, even though she knows by now that no one is coming after her. Why?

2. The Shootout At the Airport. At the end of the movie, Val Kilmer finds that he’s been followed by Bill Macy and his team of commandos. Bill and his team are there to kill Val and the girl, to protect the president.

There’s a shootout in a hangar, and much posing with guns and ducking in shadows.

Why are there no people working in the airport? It seems like you can have a shootout any old place these days.

But wait, there’s more.

During the shootout, a plane happens along. Who is it? Why, it’s a SWEDISH NEWS TEAM, led by a tall, gorgeous blond of course. Aren’t they all? And they capture the whole shootout on tape and eventually get The Girl onto the plane and out of the country. They save the day.

Why was there no Swedish News Team around when someone backed out of their driveway and rammed my car? It came down to my word against his, and he didn’t have any insurance. I sure could’ve used a Swedish News Team that day.

Why is a Swedish News Team in Dubai that day anyway? What Swedish News Team is so well-funded that they’re sending private jets to Dubai with an anchor and a camera crew? You would think a stringer in a hotel would be enough for the Swedes, but no, apparently there is an unquenchable thirst in Sweden for news from the United Arab Emirates, and their hugely well-funded News Teams jet from country to country, scouring the streets for any tidbit of news they can find.

SWEDISH CAMERAMAN: Where are we going?
ANCHOR: Today we are in Dubai, tomorrow Oman.
SC: What’s happening there?
A: Doesn’t matter. We’ve GOTTA GET THAT NEWS.
SC: Is that the thing?
A: That is the thing.
SC: Well ain’t that a kick in the head.
A: It is indeed.

I guess, because they’re Swedish, they’re guaranteed to be neutral on the subject of the president’s daughter.

Speaking of which, because they’re Swedish, they also get their plane off the ground on time, even when there are ARMED COMMANDOS HAVING A SHOOTOUT IN THE HANGAR NEXT TO THEM. This goes back to the “why are there no people working at the airport?” question. The last time I was on a plane and a shootout broke out among a bunch of commandos on the runway next to my plane, we were delayed quite a long time, let me tell you. But I guess these things happen every day in airports in Dubai.

PILOT: Excuse me, tower, but there is a shootout going on in hangar one-niner.
TOWER: Understood, proceed with takeoff.
PILOT: Um — shouldn’t you, um, “do something” about it?
TOWER: This is Dubai, chief, we don’t bother with that stuff.
PILOT: Oh my God! The guy from “Fargo” just got his throat cut! Shouldn’t you call somebody or something?
TOWER: It’s probably some American inter-agency struggle going on. Rogue agent, kidnapped president’s daughter, not our concern. Let ’em sort it out.
PILOT: Roger.

3. There’s a Female Unit Member, who is Val’s Little Pal #2 (since Pal #1 gets his head blown off at the end of Act II). FUM has a drink with Val, and Val tells her what he’s going to do.

Then he goes to Dubai, seemingly by himself, and meets up with an English guy, who becomes his Little Pal #3. (Hint: Don’t become one of Val’s Little Pals. They all get shot dead, dead, dead. So much for Leave No Man Behind.)

Anyway, so there’s the airport, Val has The Girl, Bill Macy shows up, shootout, bang bang bang, Val’s hit, Faceless Commando is killed, and bang-zoom, here comes FUM, out of the shadows, to escort The Girl to the plane (before getting shot in the back by Macy).

How did FUM get there? It seems that she was there with Macy. But why would she be with him? She was with Val at the top of the act. Did Val give her the assignment of “Stick with Macy, just in case he tails me to Dubai and tries to cut us off at the airport and kill us both?” Why would he do that?

In Heist, Gene Hackman’s character (“Bob” or “Joe” or whichever man-man name he was given this time around) always has a back-up plan. It’s part of his credo. Is FUM being with Macy Val’s backup plan?

But no, she couldn’t be, because Val’s surprised when he finds the Tracking Device (capitals intentional) in his Special Knife That We Had a Whole Scene About. So Val DIDN’T think that Macy was going to follow him to Dubai. Why then would he have FUM be with him?

Or was her mission to merely be there in the airport hangar when Val showed up with The Girl? If so, where was she at the top of the act, when he flew in on the airplane and did the thing with the shipping container?

I understand that if you have not seen the movie, the above will make no sense to you. But hey, these nits ain’t gonna pick themselves.
hit counter html code


12 Responses to “Spartan”
  1. urbaniak says:

    But does the film contain a motherfucker so cool that when he sleeps sheep count him?

  2. craigjclark says:

    Congratulations. You have put more thought into this movie than I have in the two years since I saw it in the theaters. (Not that I thought it was bad; it’s just the kind of film that engages you while you’re watching it, but doesn’t give you a whole lot to chew on afterwards.)

  3. urbaniak says:

    Believe it or not, Ed O’Neill had some humorous commercial campaign a few years ago where he played a detective or something and I remember thinking “Huh. His performance in these commercials actually suggests he might be an interesting actor in something other than a silly sitcom.” They were just commercials but he had a focus and subtlety in them that I hadn’t noticed before. (I’ve only seen “Married with Children” a handful of times.) So I’m not surprised he’s good in “Spartan.” I’ll have to check that out.

  4. Anonymous says:

    Answers 1 & 3

    1. The First daughter was being removed, she decided to leave a trail of bread crumbs (or emoticons) for the Delta Team guys which, for the record, are always coming to rescue the First Daughter….. it’s what they do

    3. FUM was planted at the airport to make sure the box was loaded on properly, before Macy got involved. (Maybe she works for the Swedish News Team, and was handing them the story of the year)

    • Todd says:

      Re: Answers 1 & 3

      Thank you for trying to help, Mr. or Ms. Anonymous, but —

      1. She wouldn’t necessarily know about the Delta Force. She was being protected by the Secret Service, and they are not authorized to perform search and rescue missions. That’s why Val was called in the first place, to go “off the meter” on a dangerous, unauthorized mission. More to the point, she was snatched BECAUSE the Secret Service took their men off of her and put them on the President (so that he could get laid in Boston). In other words, the sequence of events is:

      a. The President goes to Boston to “visit his daughter.”
      b. The President does not visit his daughter; rather, he goes to get laid and uses “visiting his daughter” as a front to distract the press.
      c. Not only does the President not visit his daughter, but he goes to get laid instead, taking his own daughter’s Secret Service detail with him, leaving her exposed.
      d. Daughter, feeling betrayed and abandoned (since she is), goes to a nightclub frequented by businessmen who want to have sex with underage girls.
      e. Boy did Daughter pick the wrong night to misbehave. Angry at Dad (and her boyfriend, because of a disagreement over her New Haircut), she goes to this nightclub to “be bad.” There, in a trice, she is snatched by White Slavers! Who don’t even know that she’s the President’s Daughter! And hilarity ensues.

      Why would she know that the Delta Force guys would know that she has her own distinctive logo, especially since the plot does not call for them to? I remain baffled.

      And —

      The FUM was certainly planted at the airport, but by whom and for what purpose? The English Guy (Little Pal #3) was there to make sure the box was loaded properly.

      She just kind of jumps out of the shadows as a magic savior during the climax of the film, the only thing that makes sense is that she’s there with Macy, that she knew the situation and “tagged along” with Macy when he put out the call for some Delta Folks to help him take down Val, who had gone “off the res.”

      But really, I think it’s more what I was saying before, about Mamet not really having proper respect for the medium, of saying “Yeah, sure, and the girl’s logo is in the window, that’s how we know,” without thinking if that makes sense in any real-world way.

      • urbaniak says:

        Re: Answers 1 & 3

        I once rescued Prince from kidnappers because I saw his logo in a window. So you see these things do happen in real life.

        • gazblow says:

          Do I have this right?

          Lemme see if I’ve got this right:

          1. Spartan, a film by David Mamet, is actually better directed than it is written.
          2. Iceman, Fargo Guy and Al Bundy are all good at acting.
          3. But Mamet is no longer good at writing.
          4. However, he does know what an emoticon is, to the surprise of all.
          5. Don’t be a Little Pal in a thriller. (refer to the Don’t Be The Guy In The Red Shirt Rule of Star Trek)
          6. Someone with no insurance hit your car?

          I have tried to watch this movie twice: Once on a plane coming from London which, even though it was on an on-demand type of system, put me to sleep. And another time when I TiVo’d it off HBO or something and it also put me to sleep. I am now officially done with Mr. Mamet.

      • adam_0oo says:

        Re: Answers 1 & 3

        I always got the feeling the First Daughter was ‘tagging’ her surroundings. She drew her little symbols as a way of comforting herself or distracting herself, putting her little mark on the situation. A way of personalizing her prison, a form of graffiti, similar to “Ewe wuz ‘ere” or marks counting the days of confinement.