Shortly before an election, a spin-doctor and a Hollywood producer join efforts to fabricate a war in order to cover up a Presidential sex scandal.Shortly before an election, a spin-doctor and a Hollywood producer join efforts to fabricate a war in order to cover up a Presidential sex scandal.Shortly before an election, a spin-doctor and a Hollywood producer join efforts to fabricate a war in order to cover up a Presidential sex scandal.
David Mamet will never be universally loved, because not only does there seem to be a large group that doesn't get him, but that thinks those of us that like him are degenerates. Myself, I happen to think he's one of the best playwrights and screenwriters working today (though I'm split so far on his novels). His writing may be highly stylized, but I guess I'm in tune to the rhythms of his dialogue. And he doesn't assume his audience is dumb; rather, he seeks to challenge them by asking you to come to your own conclusions, rather than hit you over the head. And he does that very well in this movie; at the beginning, we may think Conrad Brean and Stanley Motss are real sleazebags, but at the end, while we deplore the action they take of faking a war just for political ends, we can't quite dismiss them either.
Of course, a lot of that has to do with the performances of Robert DeNiro and Dustin Hoffman (Anne Heche is also a standout as Winnifred Ames, the increasingly bemused presidential aide). DeNiro seems at first like a teddy bear here, with his beard, his hat, and his bow tie, but he transfers the energy associated with his more volatile roles (TAXI DRIVER, RAGING BULL, GOODFELLAS et al) to guile and street smarts here. The way his eyes probe whoever he's talking to, and the way he anticipates almost every verbal comeback the other person has demonstrates that(he can't anticipate every event, of course, but once he gets used to it, he can).
But the standout here is Hoffman. There's been a lot of comment on Hoffman basing his character on Robert Evans. My own theory is he read Lynda Obst's excellent book HELLO, HE LIED, which talks about the producer's role, and simply played that. I formed that theory because of his mantra whenever things go wrong, "This is nothing!", especially when Winnifred reads him the riot act after their plane crashes. There's a part in the book where Obst talks about having to argue budget with the studio, and realizes it's all a game where they have roles to play; she argues for more money, the studio for less. Just as Winnifred's role is to be pessimistic, and Stanley's is to be optimistic. And Hoffman never condescends to Stanley, instead showing a talented, maybe amoral guy who deep down is so insecure that he values credit even over his life("F*** my life, I want the credit!" is one of the best lines of the film"). Contrary to his line, this film is not nothing.
- Mar 1, 1999