Wag the Dog

An example of what great actors, well-directed, can do with a first-class Mamet script.  His dialogue, which so often sounds hollow, brittle and soulless, even when he directs it himself (especially so), here sounds spontaneous, startling, razor-sharp and jaw-droppingly funny.  De Niro and Hoffman are shockingly alive and present, and all the ensemble scenes crackle with intensity and humor.

The world the script describes, which was goosed with the reality of the Lewinsky/Kosovo thing back when it came out, hasn’t aged a bit and, if anything, has become less of a satire.

The script  takes a sharp left in the third act, as many of Mamet’s scripts do, going all the way back to The Verdict, but the impact of the movie is still undeniable.
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11 Responses to “Wag the Dog”
  1. eronanke says:

    <3 that movie.
    (It’s the only one I’ve ever liked Kirsten Dunst in!)

    • Todd says:

      I knew Dunst was going to be a star the moment I saw her in Interview With the Vampire. In the late 90s I had the opportunity to cast her in a project and my representation was like “Why cast her when you could have an actual big star like, say, Gaby Hoffman?”

      • eronanke says:

        Ha! Well, she was in “Now and Then” and “Sleepless in Seattle”, I suppose it’s just a twist of fate that she is where she is and Dunst is where she is…
        (Personally, I would have rather seen *her* as Mary Jane in Spiderman.)

  2. It also shows how well Barry Levinson — who I often have a tendency to think negatively of as a very MOR, “safe” filmmaker — can work when he has a solid (and somewhat sharp and nasty) script to work from. I just rewatched Bugsy recently, and had forgotten how beautifully Levinson worked with a James Toback script. It’s like all his syrupy qualities vanish when he has a Mamet or Toback to work with — and by the same token, he mitigates the self-conscious writerly “toughness” often apparent in Mamet and Toback (and as often unbearable when they direct their own scripts).

    Wonder what other screenwriter Levinson should seek out along those lines?

  3. Anonymous says:

    I thought “Wag the Dark” went a bit too far dark in the 3rd act (not as bad as “American Dreamz” going too dark, but same principle) Though the turn made sense when compared to the rest of the movie.

    • popebuck1 says:

      From what I hear, if you know Robert Evans (the producer, who was the inspiration for the Dustin Hoffman character), the last part was inevitable.

  4. Anonymous says:

    Throw Momma From the Train

    An off-topic, left-field request for the Alcott treatment: Danny DeVito’s Throw Momma From the Train.

    • Todd says:

      Re: Throw Momma From the Train

      Haven’t watched it in a long time, but I mostly like Danny DeVito’s movies. He has a really unique voice as a director. One Christmas, I made everybody eat breakfast and open their presents early so we could get to the first show of Hoffa. Hey, it was DeVito directing a Mamet script about labor history! Merry Christmas everybody!