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If you go by the plot, or by the casting (Val Kilmer's done his share
of stupid actioners), you might well go into this expecting guns,
explosions, and improbably ninja-esquire super-agents who parachute
around and kill things with their teeth.
But this is Mamet, so what you get instead is a sort of weird emotional flatland for almost two hours of film, with Kilmer doing an excellent (Val KILMER? Whoa!) job of portraying what top-level soldier/drones are like: emotionally neutral, physically economical, and not always all that bright.
If you're looking for somebody hoisting a bazooka and wisecracking before he blows up the compound and saves the girl in the bikini while smashing the drug smuggling ring, this ain't your film, friend. It's very well written and extremely well acted, but also quiet, murky, and deliberately understated.
Don't expect whiz-bang excitement or crackerjack dialogue. If you can shelve that and put yourself in the frame of mind of a Kurosawa samurai movie, where contemplation and futility take equal time with action and excitement, you'll find this movie a lot more rewarding.
David Mamet first caught my attention when he did a small grifter film
called House of Games. It was released three years prior to The Grifters
and I am quite certain that The Grifters took a lot of inspiration from
House of Games. The Grifters had a high priced cast and more money was
spent on the production but it was not quite as good as Mamet's masterpiece.
Later, I would learn that Mamet would go on to write some of the best
dialogue in all of film with movies like The Untouchables (just like a Wop,
brings a knife to a gunfight), The Heist ( everyone loves money, that's why
they call it money) and my favourite Mamet film, Glengarry Glenross ( I make
$900,000 a year, that's why...). Mamet has a gift for the way people sound
and the way they might deliver a line. Spartan continues his trend of
interesting and crisp dialogue and fascinating characters. I have to agree
with Roger Ebert when he says that this is Val Kilmer's best performance
since Tombstone. He nails the character Scott, to a tee. Where as many
action thrillers are about guns and explosions and certain bad acting, this
is more about the characters. I am not saying that dumb action thrillers
aren't fun sometimes, because they are. But if you like films that treat
you like you already know what you need to know, and then proceed to show
you things that you don't, then Spartan, like The Bourne Identity, is a film
that you should enjoy.
Val Kilmer plays perhaps a member of the Secret Service, or perhaps he is just one of those covert operatives that is so good at what he does that he is just an invisible spook who shows up to do a job that others have trouble with. Mamet has given us a character that is so exemplary and pensive and good at what he does that he is the paradigm that all others in his line of work should emulate. There is no hesitation with him. He is driven and he is serious and like The Terminator, he will not stop, ever, until he has finished the job.
In this film, that job is to rescue the president's daughter, who was kidnapped while the Secret Service agent watching over her claims he was sleeping while she disappeared. But what the real reason is we may never know. There is the possibility that her disappearance may have political ramifications that would go as high up as the President himself. It is learned that Laura Newton may have been kidnapped in a scheme that involves an international sex trade with American women. The kidnappers do not know they have the president's daughter. And that may complicate things.
What makes Kilmer's character so fascinating is the way Mamet writes him. This is a man who has seen much and done much and when the time calls for it, he does not hesitate to use whatever force is necessary to acquire information. He hunts down bar owners, prostitution ring leaders and terrorists. He kills death row inmates to get information, he roughs up middle aged women who hold keys to the case and he holds an extreme form or prejudice towards anyone who may be a link in solving the case. This is a job to Scott and he treats it like that. I think this is the fundamental difference in a film like Spartan and many other less intelligent films that try to glamorize political espionage thrillers. This film talks and sounds like you are literally witnessing what happens behind closed doors. It gives you the feeling that what are witnessing is everything that does not get reported in the papers. This is about as raw as it gets and Mamet can take full credit for writing and directing the film as beautifully as he did and Val Kilmer can be proud of what he brought to the table.
This is one of the best films of the young 2004 and while it will be forgotten soon enough, when it comes out on video, it is a film that must be seen.
The excellent David Mamet returns to write and direct an entertaining spy thriller which puts fantasy fare such as the Bourne Identity to bed. Val Kilmer is good here, better than anything I can remember, but the real star here is Mamet. His direction is better here than Heist or State and Main, and the script more believable. It still crackles with Mamet's trademark dialogue but in this genre it seems to fit better. Excellent support cast all round, notably 'the girl' and Said Taghmaoui, the latter being one of my favourite character actors at present. The ending does seem abrupt, but by no means out of place. Critics argued that the plot is too complicated/ clever and that the lead is truly "Shallow Val" but this is selling the actor and the audience short. This was entertaining, with overtones of conspiracy which makes great viewing for people with similar tastes to myself. 10/10
'Spartan' may be the best spy movie ever made by a practicing
playwright/director. Director and frequent screen writer David Mamet
('House of Games,' 'State and Main,' 'Spanish Prisoner,' 'Heist,') has
crafted a thriller peppered with his stylized, epigrammatic dialogue
that takes on the presidency and world corruption in equal parts of
vitriol and savvy. The Pulitzer Prize winner of 'Glengarry Glen Ross'
shows he can keep suspense without sacrificing intelligence.
When special ops officer Scott (Val Kilmer, 'Wonderland') describes himself as no 'planner. I ain't a thinker. I never wanted to be,' I knew I was in Mamet territory, where the speeches are street-poetic, terse, and redolent of subtext. Scott eventually has to be more than just an obedient Spartan, as he moves to the conscientious soldier who begins to see much more than just the kidnapping of the president's daughter.
Mamet lets us see that this plot is much more than a potboiler about the lost daughter of a lascivious, ruthless president, for it comments on the hidden forces behind the electoral process. Typical of Mamet, there is much more than what the eye thinks it sees. In fact, I must remind myself to have students write essays about appearance and reality in Mamet's films.
Kilmer is once more a surprise--he is one of our most underrated film actors. When he played an FBI agent in 'Thunderheart,' I was impressed by his low-key interpretation of a Native American in hiding. I am slowly becoming a fan by shedding my feelings that after successfully playing Jim Morrison, he could never successfully play anyone else. As Scott he too must shed his old ways from being a 'worker bee' to being an operative affecting world politics by following his instincts rather than his orders.
Some might claim Mamet loads his dramatic dice with contrived plot twists. I claim he develops his characters with such precision and care that his plots exemplify 'distributed exposition,' where each turn is another piece of the character puzzle.
Denys Arcand must be credited for bathing me in languid prose in 'Barbarian Invasion.' David Mamet must be credited for reinvigorating me with muscular prose. Both writers outstrip David Koepp's lame attempt to reveal a writer in heat in 'Secret Window,' starring Johnny Depp as a Stephen King surrogate.
The title 'Spartan' has several possible meanings, including the Battle of Thermopylae allusion in the film. However, the one I like best is the reference to Spartan lawgiver Lycurgus, who said, 'Those who are trained and disciplined in the proper discipline can determine what will best serve the occasion.' Mamet best serves this occasion with a superior thriller about a man of discipline serving his country in spite of itself.
Well i was starting to wonder whether Val would get his career back on
track after seeing him in mishaps like Mindhunters (Cheesey but fun)
and his brief role in The Missing (Boring boring boring). I haven't seen
Wonderland yet so i can't judge him on that one just now.
This is the guy that starred in films such as Willow, Heat and Tombstone (His best role to date), he should be starring in bigger films these days and making a better reputation for himself you would think. But up until now this hasn't happened. So thank god for Spartan....
The trailer looked quite average so i wasn't expecting much, but it starred Kilmer and Macy so i was hoping to be pleasantly surprised somehow. Which i was.
The reason why this film hit the right note for me was its pace. It flowed really well and i thank Mamet the director for that. The first thirty minutes to forty five are fantastic and didn't let go of the audiences attention at all. It did dip through the middle but again picked up to my delight after that patchy spell.
I've already commented on Kilmer enough and he does a great job in his role of Agent Scott. He is backed up by rookie partner Curtis played by Derek Luke. This is the first time i have seen this guy and he did a great job with the screen time that he had.
My one disappointment is William H Macy's character Stoddard. There was no development whatsoever to his character and he was restricted to very tight screen time. The best actor in this film restricted to a few lines is very harsh. I'm sure a few people will agree with me there.
By the way i loved the fact that they didn't relate to the girl as the 'presidents daughter' once throughout this film. Simple but effective
A gem of a film.
Secret Serviceman extraordinnaire Val Kilmer tries to retrieve a
kidnapped politician's daughter in this surprisingly-good thriller.
There isn't a lot of violence in this modern day tough rescue story, but when it occurs, look out! Kilmer is very good in here, one of his best performances ever and the film is nicely photographed. The only warning I would give viewers is the language, which contains about 25 f-words.
The best plug I can give this film is that it was very entertaining, start to finish, and that's what most of us are looking for - entertainment. It keeps your attention the full 100-plus minutes, so what's not to like? As mentioned, Kilmer is very, very good in here and, make no mistake: he's the show. Everything in the story really revolves around him.
There was anything that struck a sour note with me, it would be the story with the kidnapped girl's father. I don't think he was realistic, but I won't say more in fear of spoiling anything for those who haven't seen this.
Nonetheless, an under-publicized excellent film of 2004.
This one better than most of David Mamet's later films and this is just as good as House of Games and Homicide. This movie stars Val Kilmer as a government agent who is called in to help with the search of the president's missing daughter. Val is willing to do just about anything to get her back and the less you know about the plot, the better you're off. I'm surprised that i never even heard of this movie until it came in theaters. I saw no previews for it or any ads anywhere. The first place i heard about was when Val Kilmer was on The Daily Show to promote the movie. I only went to go see it was that it was written and directed by David Mamet. It would be a good thing to not read any reviews before you see it.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Scott is a special operations soldier known for his professionalism,
expertise and ability to get results. After a brief spell at a training
facility, he is called in with the FBI to investigate the kidnapping of
the president's daughter. Quickly it becomes evident that the
kidnappers do not realize who they have and the race is on to recover
her before the media and her captors realize what is happening,
throwing Scott into a deadly political game.
Whether it be the world of con-men, salesmen of filmmakers, David Mamet has an uncanny ability to write sharp screenplays that generally avoid cliché and raise the level of the film by his influence and so, as writer and director here, the film appeared to have potential to be very good. While I did really enjoy it, the film did have its weaknesses but, as is often the case, these are not in the areas where Mamet is traditionally strong. The plot starts very quickly and tough and continues at such a pace that I doubted it could keep it up but, although it dipped a bit at the midpoint, it quickly picked it up again. As a solid thriller the film delivers no real surprises and it's a measure of how cynical we are as a people to say that the idea of politicians manipulating events, the media and the voters for political gain does not so much count as a 'twist' as it does a given. However, Mamet's cynicism is well timed, as it comes at a time when belief in our politicians seems to be at a low and audiences will be likely to welcome the film's message that, although truth is often the first conflict of any action, it is never the only one.
As a result of this the plot loses a lot of its impact as it pretty much goes where you expect it to even if it does it in a very effective fashion. The plot also falls down in the detail and I was a little irritated by some of the areas that were not filled out. For example I didn't understand the full background to the girl's kidnapping as some details contradicted other details within the story. Also some situations and characters are given far too little time and detail to be able to make the impact that the film demands of them William H. Macy's character being the perfect example; he is meant to be the face of the conspiracy but has few lines until the end and, even then, you'll be none the wiser as to how he fits into the whole situation.
But for my money these issues were minor niggles in a film that was very involving, very enjoyable and very cool! The plot may be the stable stuff of the genre but the writing spices it up no end. The characters talk and carry themselves the way we all wise we could the dialogue is never really trite (well, the 'she's my daughter' scene was a bit corny) and is actually enjoyable to listen to as opposed to many thrillers where dialogue is often a way of explaining the action scenes! Mamet scores a double double in my eyes because I also thought his direction was unobtrusive but also very stylish and interesting. He doesn't use darkness much but he uses a sort of half-light very well to match the material, at times gradually moving his characters from light to dark as they talk. More surprising than the impressive stylistic touches was perhaps the moments of action, which Mamet delivers with real tension and pace not bad for a playwright!
Given the dialogue to work with, the majority of the cast do very well. I'm not a big fan of Val Kilmer and this film will hardly draw the crowds based on his name alone but he is actually pretty good here. Starting the film with a cold emotional delivery, Kilmer is very much the professional he needs to be and is unrelentingly tough and cool until the film demands he struggle with his direction and even then he manages it even if he is less convincing than the first half. Luke appears to have been given a normal rookie role but he is still good and makes a significant impact. Texada is barely used considering her role in the story and she matches the majority of the support cast in the way that she delivers the dialogue well but has little character behind the sharp words. The support are therefore a mixed bunch few have any real characters of substance but generally people like Macy, O'Neil and others all spouting tough dialogue is still worth seeing.
Overall this is not the best thriller ever but it is a very enjoyable one that greatly benefited from Mamet's positive work as both writer and director. The plot may be full of gaps but generally it keeps a great pace from the start to the sombre and satisfying finale. The cast all get plenty of good dialogue to deliver, even if it is only really Kilmer and Luke who get the chance to deliver a performance and generally the film is a very enjoyable, if unsurprising thriller.
David Mamet's Spartan had me leaving the theater thinking 'yeah, it was a
good movie, some things I didn't understand'. Perhaps that's Mamet's
intention- he's one of the reigning rulers of writers who use calculated,
cool twists in storytelling- but I felt the moments in the film where I
wasn't surprised so much by the turns taken. Not to say Spartan doesn't
have some surprises (a few elements, such as a couple of deaths and a
revelation or two which I won't put down here), and as a visual storyteller
I got involved in the tension building with Val Kilmer's situation.
Kilmer, playing both mentor to training rangers and "worker-bee" to the United States government's special op's, is put on the case of the kidnapping of the President's daughter. It needs to be solved before the media grabs it, but it may not be that easy. Kilmer's Scott is a little more distant in tone and style sometimes, thinking of things to say to people that could border on a hack's cliche, yet Mamet isn't unforgivable in all the dialog. What dissapointed me were some of his choices in shots - he's not always as subtle as you might've thought in his cut-aways and use of music. While this is different territory in subject matter (dealing with a thriller on a political, topical scale), some of the tricks Mamet was pulling seemed stagey, and more predictable than he's known for.
Should people rush to theatres to see Spartan? Depends- for fans of Kilmer there's a lingering aura of understatement, concern, of a character who has been following rules his whole life, and it's not that bad. Derek Luke is a formidable supporting presence. Ed O'Neill strikes up some dramatic credit amid his post-Married with Children days. William H. Macy could've deserved a little more screen time to emphasize his importance to the story. And Kristen Bell is believable as the torn daughter. The script isn't rapid fire Mamet in delivery and tone, so it is at a pace that will dissapoint those who are looking for non-stop thrills. Maybe my grade is un-fair- the material does seek to be seen again- but I just didn't get that it was top-shelve stuff. B
I've been a fan of David Mamet since The Untouchables, and a half a
dozen films since, including Glengarry Glen Ross and Ronin. His writing
is so exacting - it's surgical. And among the best in the Industry. It
seems no writer in film exemplifies the dominant (lone) male psyche
better than he does - he is one of my favorite writers. I say lone
because most of the leads in his films are either solo, or if married
you don't know it. Even in The Winslow Boy, which was a period piece.
In his films, the Dialog is definitely the star. Realizing that is key
to enjoying his films.
As a Deep Sea Diver in the U.S. Navy for many years, who spent time with the Special Boat Unit and 5 years with EOD (the bomb squad), I can tell you that he speaks the language of the military elite, and the military at large - better than anyone. In his film Spartan, we have the perfect marriage of the nuances subtleties and atmosphere of the shadowy world where special ops are used as federal assets for unofficial or non military missions. I believe Spartan is as close to capturing this as movie making ever comes.
Val Kilmer is a much better actor than many of his more famous contemporaries, and is probably the performer they wished they were. Though he's never really gained the notoriety or superstar status. I think most guys would agree that his Doc Holliday in Tombstone was the best ever, with due applause to Dennis Quaid's. Here he plays a Marine Gunny (a Master Gunnery Sergeant here) assigned to special ops (probably after Recon) and was the perfect fit for both this film and Mamet's script, which combined with his talent - was one of his best. Tom Clancy is the only other modern writer of this caliber that captures the military mindset and does it so well, but in a different way. Though the title probably refers to the Spartan ideology of one well trained man being better than a hundred who are not, there is a picture here offered of the very Spartan lifestyle lived by so many in the military of any nation and is well represented. A great film! I couldn't recommend it more.
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