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Scott Ventura >> Movie Commentary >> April 1998 >> Wag the Dog

Wag the Dog

Movie Commentary by Scott Ventura


Scott's Rating:
4 / 5
Times Seen:
Viewing Date:
April 1998
IMDB Name:
Wag the Dog (1997)
Barry Levinson
MPAA Rating:
R for language.

It has been said that fiction is having trouble keeping up with reality for craziness. Now that I've seen Wag the Dog so late in the Clinton scandal, it feels a little more like a documentary than a satire. It's almost spooky.

So how is it? It's great. We see a Hollywood big shot who lives in a universe without boundaries. The world caters to his whim in every imaginable way, and so everything happens, if not exactly as he prescribes, then pretty close. "This is nothing!" he reiterates every time a new wrinkle turns up. Dustin Hoffman is utterly convincing as this character. He moves through the movie as effortlessly as his character does through the undercover world of these manipulators. Robert De Niro also delivers a seamless performance. The rough exterior of his makeup job makes him look like a non-entity, but when called upon, he brings out a level of conviction that's hard to top.

The list of other folks in the film is pretty formidable. Anne Heche is in a perfect panic mode throughout the movie. William H. Macy makes a brief appearance as a CIA exec, and it's quite a turnaround from his usual roles of non-confrontational types. Denis Leary lends his usual razor-like voice to the mix. Woody Harrelson is very good in his small role of a deranged war hero whose name leads to a new trend in patriotic displays.

The score by Mark Knopfler is beautiful. Knopfler can take the upbeat and still make it more soothing than new age. It pulses with energy, but doesn't intrude. Knopfler rules. I'm surprised his filmography is so short, given his talent.

In the end, though, the movie will not let you leave happy. The movie propels the audience through a dizzying barrage of jokes, but slams to a depressing finish at the end. The twinge of sadness that you'll feel will come from the last place you'd expect, but it serves as a strange moral. It is to the credit of the David Mamet / Hilary Henkin screenplay that the characters don't change for the convenience of a Hollywood ending.

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Copyright 1998-2002 by Scott Ventura. All rights reserved.