Wag the Dog (1997) Poster


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The Best Political Satire Since Dr. Strangelove
camachoborracho25 November 2004
Rarely can film satire make you laugh and be worried about the future at the same time. Levinson's film does just that, with a great cast and great writing, this film succeeds.

You may have noticed that many of the posts and reviews argue that this is not plausible. Obviously these posters do not realize that satire is supposed to be over the top and show what can happen in extremes, and ironically, this came out just after Clinton's sex scandal, and is still relevant today with George W. and will continue to be regardless of the president. Also, some may think it oversimplifies the public as idiots, but this isn't true, especially if they are being deceived and information is withheld. There are some implausibilities, as in why no reporters went to Albania or how other countries didn't get involved other than denying the charges, but these are small and even addressed in scenes with the rival candidates, news reporters and even CIA head William H. Macy.

Really I don't know how anyone can not like this film since it is smart, funny and scary all at once with fine performances and direction all around. This is an American political satire classic that is sadly becoming less satire as time goes on.

OVERALL: 9/10. Buy or at least rent before the satire becomes reality.
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This is not nothing
Sean Gallagher1 March 1999
I saw this before the brouhaha with Clinton and Lewinsky broke, and I imagine most of the negative comments about this film came because they saw it after and thought this was a Nostradamus film. When I saw it, I thought it started a bit slow, and was a bit too self-satisfied (like the scenes of people crying at a concert; that seemed fake). However, for most of the way, this is sharp, biting, and yes, funny, though when I first saw it, I thought it was more accurate in its Hollywood satire than on its government satire. Time, of course, proved me wrong.

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.
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Fascinating and Interesting.
tfrizzell3 July 2002
Barry Levinson's under-rated "Wag the Dog" is a brilliant piece of satire which is to the 1990s what "All the President's Men" was to the 1970s. The president is in trouble after a sexual scandal with an under-aged girl. Enter Robert DeNiro and Anne Heche who want to distract the nation with something else as they try to get their boss out of the hot seat. The only problem is: nothing is going on. So it is up to them to create something to rally the country around the executive-in-chief. Now enter sleazy, but high class Hollywood director Dustin Hoffman (in a well-deserved Oscar-nominated turn) who is contacted to start an imaginary war. He agrees and the plan works, but as time goes by more and more problems occur and the lies continue to snow-ball. Levinson's excellent direction and Hilary Henkin's clever screenplay raise the performances of all involved. Naturally DeNiro and Hoffman are guaranteed to excel in a film like this, but good work is also done by people like Heche, Denis Leary, William H. Macy, Woody Harrelson and even Willie Nelson (!?). Somewhat ignored in 1997, but still one of the best films of that year and one of the more important films of the 1990s. 4.5 out of 5 stars.
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Short & sharp satire on media manipulation
bob the moo4 January 2002
During the campaign to re-elect the president of America, an underage sex scandal between a girl scout and the president in the oval office. To divert attention spin doctor Conrad Brean is called in to manage the fall out and hold it off for the 11 days till the election. Conrad employs Hollywood producer Stanley Motss to produce a war in Albania to divert the media away from the real story.

This was made before Clinton was accused of misconduct with Monica Lewinsky and the subsequent re-start of military action in Iraq. This seemed to give it a much greater feel of realism and much more credibility. However even before this happened it was still a very sharp and very good satire on political spin, but also managing to have a dig at Hollywood movie types. The story is told in a very stage-play fashion and is dialogue driven with very funny moments throughout. It's not as terrifying as a real look at media manipulation could be because it chooses to be a comedy instead but it still makes plenty of valid points.

The two leads are excellent at the head of an all-star cast. De Niro manages to be a professor-style character while at the same time having an easily accessible sense of menace just beneath the surface. Hoffman is good sending up Hollywood producers well and drawing parallels between the creation of a film and the creation of political news stories. The cast also has a series of cameos and extended cameos who add both humour and quality to the film - Willie Nelson, Denis Leary, James Belsuhi, William H Macy etc.

Recently in the UK we've had huge problems with spin doctors running the Labour Government - to the extent that 11th September was described as "good" by one as it gave them the chance to bury several bad news stories that they had stored up. And more recently with various Governments' waging a media war to win support their stance regarding military action. This film doesn't make hugely serious points but it does make you think about how the media is used to shape public perception and make us think what those in charge want us to think.

Overall a very funny, very clever satire that has a great cast, the only criticism being that it stretches it's point a little too far with the "old shoe" section.
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The greatest political satire ever
msapir11 October 2004
I do not understand the people who did not like the movie. For me this is the greatest political satire since Chaplin's "The great dictator". Both de Niro and Hoffman are great as well. This movie is not about Clinton although they did predict correctly the Kosovo war, and Albanian terrorists. It is about American political system which is made by and for TV. Several lines from that movie ("Why Albania?" - "Why not?", "Albania does not rhyme", "What do you remember about the Gulf war? One smart bomb... I was in that building when we shot that shot", and many more) are impossible to forget because everyday political life does not let us forget them.
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A good plan today is better than a perfect plan tomorrow.
Andy (film-critic)9 November 2008
Can a movie created in the late 90s still speak to a voting audience in the late 2000s? Prior to "Wag the Dog" my answer would be "no", but watching, and now re-watching it for a second time in the past week, this film could be watched today, watched next year, or even watched prior to the next four elections, and it would continue to feel current, real, and modern in today's political/cinematical world. The power of the dialogue, the intense chemistry of the characters, and the constant interruption of the television generation into the political world will continue to keep "Wag the Dog" out of the black hole of cinema – it will not be dated, never forgotten, and forever enjoyed. As we continue to allow CNN to give us our news, this film will remain as vivid as America's apple pie.

Act I: The Chemistry of the Characters

Robert DeNiro and Dustin Hoffman could play chess for three hours, and it would capture my attention from beginning to end. DeNiro is a powerhouse of an actor, not just because he can play the tough gangster type, but also because he can take a character like Brean and give us simple, verbose, and intelligent. His range can be seen throughout this film. He commands each scene that he is in, focusing our attention on each of his words and lingering on his next move. In my eyes, it is more powerful than "Goodfellas" or "Casino" because of his subtle nature. The scene that stands out for me in "Wag the Dog" that requires viewing for DeNiro's talent is that between CIA Agent William H. Macy and DeNiro discussing the honesty of the war on Albania. To me, this shows the power of his talent.

Jumping onto the other side of this film, there is Dustin Hoffman. While DeNiro pulls his obvious strengths with this film, Hoffman makes "Wag the Dog" more than just a political film. Listening to the commentary, Hoffman discusses the fact that he nearly didn't make this film because he couldn't find Motss's character. Thankfully he did, due to his compelling portrayal; we are taken from political conspiracy cinema to this raw human drama. The final act was sublime due to both DeNiro and Hoffman's chemistry, but also because we believed Motss' words. As audience members, we wanted to see him tell his story (knowing that he never would). It was the human element, the Motss' true self, that we were drawn to, and Hoffman stayed true to those moments until the very end. This isn't your typical Hollywood happy film, this basis itself on – albeit conspiracies – but honest conspiracies. Could you survive the greatest hoax ever and promise not to tell a soul? Surrounding these characters, we had Willie Nelson, Denis Leary, Anne Heche, Kirsten Dunst, William H. Macy, John Michael Higgins, and – who could forget – Woody Harrelson. These are our players, and they take us from scene to scene with the greatest of ease.

Act II: The Writing & the Directing

David Mamet. Does anything else need to be said? Having been a full time follower of his work, I was not surprised to see that it was his quick-witted words coming from our characters' mouths. It is the fast-paced level of intellectual banter that transforms "Wag the Dog" into the powerhouse that it is. It works because you finish watching the characters actions and it is the words you find yourself quoting for weeks after. Mamet's political punch to this film was reminiscent of Kubrick's ideas behind "Dr. Strangelove". The two were films that were absurd, but it was also the ideals that they were satirizing that makes both viewable today; just as powerful as they were when they were released. Mamet's words with Barry Levinson's direction takes "Wag the Dog" into perfection. There are no heroes, there are no villains, and we know so little about the characters that it is simply the story, or the words, that pull us into this film. The beats are hit, the angles are crisp and tight, and our characters are perfection – possibly the best casting in years. With this in mind, we have only the third act remaining – cause, as everyone knows – there is always a third act!

Act III: The Final Thought

Overall, "Wag the Dog" is perfect. Very few films in my eyes fully carry the honor of being watchable at any time, any decade, or any political year – but "Wag the Dog" does. Watching with a group of friends, I was surprised as to how many had not seen this feature, remembering that it had been birthed nearly 11 years ago, it still seemed surprising. "Wag the Dog" overturns those political conspiracy theories and makes you laugh, think, and realize the impact of our commercial media. It was enjoyable to hear the current terms like "plumber" and "commercial president" in this 1997 film, boasting the truth that this film was made before its time. Looking back, there are those that could complain about our premise being too cliché, that the same conspiracy theories have been done again and again, but to me, this was fresh. This entire film was fast-paced, amazingly acted, and media driven. In the commentary, it is talked about how it is rumored that the media doesn't even check sources any further, and this is a glowing example of that regime.

Grade: ***** out of *****
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The Principle of Fundamental Surprise.
Robert J. Maxwell6 September 2005
Warning: Spoilers
This is a thoroughly enjoyable movie. The story is probably familiar so I'll just summarize it. The president of the USA gets caught having sex with a teenage Firefly Girl and DeNiro and Heche hire Dustin Hoffman, an old Hollywood hand, to produce a distracting event, like a war with Albania, to flood the media and distract the public's attention for long enough (11 days) for the president to be reelected.

One thing after another goes wrong and each time Hoffman comes up with yet another colorful lie to extend the life of the story. The CIA publicly ends the war prematurely? No problem. "This is NOTHING!" cries Hoffman, "You ought to try shooting 'The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse' when two of the four horseman die two weeks after the beginning of principal photography!" No war? No problem. Hoffman invents a hero who was left behind in an Albanian prison camp. "Every war has a hero." The man chosen to be the hero -- Woody Harrelson -- turns out to have spent the last twelve years in a military prison for raping a nun. Lies are piled upon lies.

We all know that political spin is put on everything that happens in Washington. This movie came out in 1997 during Clinton's presidency but he never started a war to deflect criticism. And yet the way Levinson has directed it, and the way the performers attack their roles, it is almost completely believable that deceptions like this take place. Hoffman stretches his acting a bit but he is never so hammy that he is unbelievable as a Hollywood producer. "Ramon, bring me my veggie shake now." And, "They told me I couldn't make 'Moby Dick' from the point of view of the whale!" He brings to the part some of the smooth-talking duplicity that he showed in "Papillon" and "Midnight Cowboy." He glows with self satisfaction as he spells out his accomplishments to DeNiro. "This is the greatest thing I've ever done, bringing this war to a satisfactory conclusion." DeNiro: "But there was no war." Hoffman: "That makes it all the more difficult." Nobody else is in the least bit over the top. They play it the way Levinson directs it, as a realistic straightforward story. None of the actors seems to know that he or she is in a comedy and it works very well.

I don't think I'll mention any more of the gags because I don't want to spoil it. But it's hard to forget the scene near the end of the film when Hoffman is looking out the window at the funeral of Harrelson's character. Huge American flags, the casket being carried by the "men of the 303" (invented for the occasion). Hoffman spreads his arms expansively and says to DeNiro -- "Look at it. The whole thing is a ******* fraud, and yet it's 100 percent honest!" A victim of his own egotism, Hoffman decides that he wants credit for the production and is perfunctorily disposed of, having "suffered a massive heart attack poolside."

This was probably a funnier movie when it first appeared. President Clinton and Monica Lewinsky and Linda Tripp and all that. A war built on a string of lies seemed so outrageous that it was impossible to take a movie like this seriously. Well, circumstances change. The movie is still a great success but my heart sank at the sight of the flag-draped coffin returning from "Albania." The story seems equally outrageous now, but in a very different sense of the word.
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Brilliant satire
perfectbond9 October 2003
Wag the Dog is a brilliant satire of the American political system with enough realism to make it plausible. It speaks the strongest to people who already have a visceral loathing of the American democratic process (not how it was in 1789 but how it is now). They see a degraded and ignorant public easily duped by politicians who are no more than habitual liars who will say anything to get elected but lack any idealism whatsoever. Intelligent, funny, but also very depressing, 9/10.
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A truly great satire
Agent1021 June 2002
It had been a while since I last watched this film, but I once again remembered the reasons why I loved it so. Thoughtful and evocative, this film really captured the nature of politics and spin doctoring. This certainly ranks as one of the best political comedies of all time. The over-the-top attitude of the film didn't detract from anything, making this still quite believable. It also demonstrated how people's emotions can be manipulated when aggressively attacked. The fragile nature of the human spirit tends to make us more susceptible to such manipulations, as demonstrated in this film. With the exception of Anne Heche, everyone's performance in this film was rather good. The only other downside was Mark Knopfler's score, which was completely out of place in this film.
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Spinning a Yarn
James Hitchcock19 March 2004
Hollywood is sometimes able to produce satirical films that, in retrospect, appear to predict future developments in American politics. `Being There', the story of a simple man whose homespun philosophy is taken for profound wisdom and who, as a result, becomes a candidate for President, may look like a satire on the Reagan administration, but in fact it was actually released in 1979, during the Carter years. `Dave', which features a womanising President called Bill whose marriage is in trouble because of his adulterous relationships and his trimming of his radical principles, came out in 1993, just after Bill Clinton had taken office. It must, however, have been planned well in advance and was presumably not actually intended as anti-Clinton satire, but that is how it tends to come across today.

`Wag the Dog' is another film that proves to have been unintentionally prophetic. Shortly before an election, the President is embroiled in a potentially explosive sex scandal which threatens to end his presidency in disgrace. In order to distract the public's attention, his advisers concoct a wholly fictitious military crisis in the Balkans and hire a Hollywood producer to provide the necessary harrowing footage of war scenes. When the Albanian government protest that their country is not in fact at war, the aides present this as a triumph of American diplomacy that has averted the threatened crisis, and, in order to keep the affair in the public's mind, concoct a further sub-plot involving a supposed military hero (in real life a convicted rapist in a military prison) held prisoner by a rebel faction.

All of this may seem very familiar, but bear in mind that this film was made in 1997, two years before President Clinton, faced with a potentially explosive sex scandal which for a time threatened to end his presidency in disgrace, took America to war over a crisis in the Balkans. At least he didn't need to concoct a fictitious war. The parallels with the more recent Iraq war are perhaps less exact, although the scenes involving the supposed hero `Old Shoe' were strongly reminiscent of the ballyhoo surrounding Private Jessica Lynch.

Like `Being There', `Wag the Dog' is not, of course, a work of social realism. In real life, a simpleton like Chance could not become President without being found out, and no administration could actually get away with inventing a bogus war. (That's why they have to provide real ones). In order to make a satirical point, both films exaggerate prevalent tendencies in modern political life. `Being There', among other things, is about self-deception- Chance never pretends to be anything he is not, but those around him deceive themselves by seeing him as what they want him to be. `Wag the Dog', on the other hand, is about political `spin' and the deliberate deception of the public. Politicians try and deceive as many of the people for as much of the time as they think they can get away with, and the media will go along with such deception for as long as it is in their interest.

`Wag the Dog' has some sharp points to make, and there is a very good performance from Dustin Hoffman as the Hollywood producer Stanley Motss. Motss is recognisably suffering from status anxiety in its most acute form- the form that afflicts the brilliantly successful and wealthy man who still feels undervalued by society and will do anything, however unethical or even dangerous to his own safety, to win public recognition. (He complains that there is no Academy Award specifically for producers, ignoring the fact that one is not needed because the producer traditionally receives the Best Picture award).

Despite that, however, I felt that the film as a whole was not as sharp or as funny as it could have been. I think the reason is that it is basically a one-joke film; once the war story has been exploded, the plot tends to lose direction. The idea of concocting a wholly bogus war is a brilliantly surreal satirical conceit; the idea of concocting a bogus hostage drama, although more inherently plausible, lacks the same inventiveness, so the `Old Shoe' scenes come as something of an anti-climax after what has gone before. I felt that Robert de Niro as the presidential aide Conrad Brean was less effective than Hoffman; I have never thought that comedy is his forte and that he is at his best in serious roles. (I may be judging unfairly, as there are several of his comedies that I have not seen). I also felt that it was a mistake not to show the President in the film- this may not be a realistic film, but the idea that a spin doctor could create a fictitious war without even the President being aware of what is going on strains credibility past its limits. Moreover, as we found out with Nixon and his attempted cover-up of the Watergate affair, the culture of spin involves our elected leaders themselves, not just members of their staff. Overall the film had its moments but could have been better. 6/10.
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Doesn't quite hit it's stride...
Adec16 August 1999
As the calibre of the talent involved would suggest Wag The Dog is a very well acted and directed film, however for some strange reason it isn't a particularly satisfying one.

Perhaps that is mainly due to the fact that it is somewhat of a one joke idea, or maybe it's due to the fact that with current events as they are it's all too plausible and the whole thing of late is somewhat comically overexposed. Whatever it may be in the end you can't help but feeling that the film somehow missed a beat somewhere along the line and ultimately wasn't all that it should or could have been.

That is not to say that this isn't an entertaining film, it is. From the fistful of great performances from Robert Deniro, Anne Heche, Denis Leary, Willie Nelson, Woody Harrelson and especially Dustin Hoffman who seems to be relishing his role here, to the well played supporting roles filled out by the likes of William H. Macy, Craig T. Nelson, Kirsten Dunst et al 'Wag The Dog' has all the talent performing admirably. It also has a sharp, amusing script (by Hilary Henkin & David Mamet, based on the novel "American Hero" by Larry Beinhart) going for it and Barry Levinson's direction is top notch, but despite being quite entertaining, it also seems too slight by half, and just not focused or funny enough to quite make everything work successfully at the end of the day.

Regardless of it's flaws Wag The Dog is still a fun, well made and entertaining film that deserves to be seen and enjoyed, it just isn't quite able to reach the lofty peak that it aspires to. But just so long as you don't go in expecting an hilarious rib tickler of political satire it's a pretty fair bet that you will be suitably entertained.

One man's opinion. 7.5/10
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A clever but mostly just very entertaining political satire.
Boba_Fett11385 March 2005
Scariest thing about "Wag the Dog" is that it has a very realistic feel. Sure, there are some far fetched things but overall the movie leaves the impression like this is something that could actually happen in real life or already maybe has happened.

But "Wag the Dog" is more entertaining than anything. Yes, in a way you can compare it to "Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb" even though it is not as brilliant of course. The subject is treated in a very entertaining and comical way and that is what makes "Wag the Dog" a very fun movie to watch. But yet it also knows how to bring over the important political message of the movie. In that way this movie is comparable to "Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb".

The main cast is very good. Robert De Niro and Dustin Hoffman are great in their second movie together ("Sleepers" was the first which was also directed by Barry Levinson and they can now be seen together again in "Meet the Fockers"). It sounds weird but they really have some chemistry together. Anne Heche however at times irritated me and also isn't exactly the most talented actress I've seen. There also is a very good and entertaining supporting cast with actors such as Willie Nelson, William H. Macy, Woody Harrelson, a still very young Kirsten Dunst and Craig T. Nelson in a uncredited role as 'enemy' Senator John Neal. Really entertaining are all of the Woody Harrelson sequence's, they are highly fun and might very well be the best parts of the movie.

A very fun entertaining movie with a realistic feel! Highly recommendable.


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Timeless political satire
Chris Lawson31 January 2016
I could watch this movie over and over. The movie is almost than 20 years old and yet it rings true today, although the political outrages of the day that it satirizes seem tame compared to what has transpired in reality since.

Dustin Hoffman and Robert De Niro deliver priceless performances. Anne Heche ties them together. Willie Nelson, Woody Harrelson provide perfect accents with their smaller roles.

The movie serves up some memorable lines and situations indelible on your memory.

It's just too bad we don't seem to have learned anything from its lesson.
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Stinging political satire
NateWatchesCoolMovies25 December 2015
Barry Levinson has always been a director that yanks the rug out from under his audience when they least expect it. He starts his films off with a knowing grin that sets a playful tone, and then the trap snaps and schit gets real in ways we didn't see coming. He never loses the lighthearted tone to his work though, and even when things get decidedly grim, there's always a winking light at the end of the tunnel that somewhat restores the airy note we rode in on. Wag The Dog walks this tightrope terrifically, a buoyant political satire with dark flourishes in all the right places, but a piece that knows it's place, and when to pull up its britches and pad it's daring, dark ending in surreal mannerisms that make it easier to swallow. When the U.S. President is caught up in a torrid sex scandal, spin doctor Conrad Brean (Robert De Niro) is brought in to fix the situation using any means he can. His brilliant idea involves utterly fabricating a war with Albania in order to smother the affair and distract the American people using a shameless smokescreen. The scary thing is (and not just for the film, but the sad state of affairs in the states, these days even) that it works splendidly. Using the help of of eccentric Hollywoood producer Stanley Mottss (Dustin Hoffman), spacey songwriter Johnny Dean (Willie Nelson), spiffy 'Fad King' Denis Leary and head honcho politico Anne Heche, Brean concocts an entirely false and unnecessary conflict just to facilitate the whims of their commander in chief. This is another film that eerily predicted the internet atrocities of the future which plague us today. In a world filled with laughable lunacy like Kony 2012, je suis Paris and bring back our girls, one begins to wonder what kind of unseen cogs spin to dictate what we filter our profile pictures through and gab about nonsensically on a monthly basis to distract us from whatever is really happening behind the scenes. When you take into account that this was made in 1997, it becomes all the more apparent that's it's a film with quite the head on its shoulders. Hoffman really steals the show as the bronzed up, coiffed motor mouth of a tycoon, so deliriously dumb that he unknowingly stumbles into answers to is own obvious musings half the time ("this is nothing, piece of cake"). De Niro is a sly fox, deliciously underplaying Brean and getting us to lay our guard down, so,that we don't see the danger in his persona until it's already dictating choices that we make. There's also fine work from Woody Harrelson, Kirsten Dunst, William H. Macy, Harland Williams, This one really deserves more acclaim than its remembered for, and will make you think almost as hard as you're laughing. b
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always topical
Lee Eisenberg30 April 2006
People may think of "Wag the Dog" as fiction, but time and again, the movie has shown itself to be reality. Whether it was Bush Sr. coming up with the Gulf War to distract people from the Savings and Loans scandal, Clinton threatening military action against Iraq to distract people from the Lewinsky thing, Bush Jr. invading Iraq as a we-can't-find-Osama diversion, or the current threats against Iran, this movie is the hilarious but unfortunate truth.

The plot of course has spin doctor Conrad Brean (Robert DeNiro) teaming up with Hollywood producer Stanley Motss (Dustin Hoffman) to fabricate a war, so as to distract the country from the president's sexual follies (and to think that the movie came out around the same time as you-know-what). It just goes to show that truth really is stranger than fiction, especially when politics is involved. A great satire. Also starring Anne Heche, Willie Nelson, Kirsten Dunst and Woody Harrelson.
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Cute idea, but execution overloads suspension of disbelief
Euromutt31 January 2003
This film has a neat enough premise; the US president gets caught with his hand in the underage cookie jar right before election time, and his hatchetman Conrad Brean (De Niro) goes out to divert public attention. To do so, he enlists the aid of Hollywood producer Stanley Motss (Hoffman) and the two cook up an entirely fictitious war for the president to deal with and solve in statesmanlike fashion. It certainly captured the public's imagination at the time (Clinton & Lewinsky), went through a revival in the Balkans during the Kosovo crisis (in the film, the phony war is with Albania, which borders on Kosovo), and at the time of writing, with the US economy in trouble and war with Iraq looming, is being dredged up again. But "Wag the Dog", I am sad to say, has a fatal flaw in common with most conspiracy theories: its credibility ceases about five minutes after the opening credits. We are made to believe that every single person enlisted in Brean and Motss's project can be trusted to "never say a word about this to anyone." Surely, only dead men tell no tales, but a trail of dead actors, gaffers and special effects people would be noticed (okay, maybe not the actors). It's never made clear to us whether the war is completely fictional, or its causes are fictional but the war is all too real. In the former case, any journalist arriving in Albania would presumably notice a marked lack of US troops; in the latter, one would expect more (in fact, any) footage of Brean threatening the careers of various generals. Motss cooks up a fictional SpecOps unit for dramatic purposes, with the explanation that nobody's heard of it because it's so secret; this unit then parades down the Washington Mall, its members' faces visible to all and sundry, in highly distinctive garb (the half-black/half-leopard print beret... please!), contrary to practice of every existing SpecOps unit. Most of the cast of "Wag the Dog" deliver a fine performance; the direction and production values are more than adequate. All of it is ultimately wasted on a script which is riddled with holes through which you could drive an 18-wheeler.
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A True Masterpiece!
namashi_124 September 2009
Writers Hilary Henkin, David Mamet & director Barry Levinson deserve an ovation to attempt a film like 'Wag The Dog'. An outstanding work of cinema!

A Washington spin doctor who, mere days before a presidential election, distracts the electorate from a sex scandal by hiring a Hollywood film producer to construct a fake war with Albania. An Incredible Idea, turned into an Incredible Film! Levinson has made many, many Masterpieces before, but this 1997 classic ranks as his finest work to date. His understanding to the subject & his brilliant execution leaves you awe-struck. A film where Minuses are hard to find.

Performance wise: Dustin Hoffman is fantastic. He's a treat to watch in each & every scene he appears, every dialog he delivers is a treat to watch, each & every expression he conveys is a treat to watch. This is his strongest performance to date. Robert De Niro is excellent, as always. Anne Heche is superb, and she looks really sexy in that short-hair-cut. Woody Harrelson is first-rate as the rapist. Others are perfect in their parts.

On the whole 'Wag The Dog' is cinema at it's best. Two Big Thumbs Up!
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Dustin Hoffman is Robert Evans!
caspian197826 November 2003
Right from the opening scene, Wag the Dog moves fast. The audience must be in shape to follow the actors from scene to scene. Fast talking and fast walking, the film moves from city to city, limo to jet, and studio to studio. The movie doesn't slow down until its final scene when nothing happens. Very political is all you can truly say about Wag the Dog. Anyone who believes in conspiracy theories has Wag the Dog as one of their top ten favorite films. De Niro and Hoffman are terrific together. Hoffman does his best Robert Evans impression as the fast talking, fast moving Hollywood Producer that can solve any problem.
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More relevant to Bush than to Clinton
john_meyer16 August 2002
My reaction to this black comedy reminds me of how I felt when I first saw "Dr. Strangelove" back in 1964. That movie was terribly funny, even as Slim Pickens did the atomic mid-air rodeo ride that was destined to start World War III. Yet, I was chilled by the truth in the caricatures up there on the screen parodying our real leaders. In a similar manner, "Wag the Dog" offers up the same kind of black comedy satire, with great insight into how the modern, amoral, political PR mind works.

Much was made at the time the movie debuted about its clairvoyance in depicting a president who needs to distract the country from his sexual dalliances. However, while that fact provides the motivation for the movie, it really isn't central to its theme. The problem just as well could have been illegal bribes, or any other scandal. The real guts of the film are right there in the title (which is explained for us in detail in the opening credits, in case we didn't get it): The minions are running the show, and the politicians are just bit players in the resulting drama (the President's face never even appears in the movie!). Viewed from today's perspective (2002), this movie is far more relevant than when it first appeared because it understands the politics of terrorism, suitcase bombs, the increased role of the CIA and, at the end, the need to go back to Albania (nee Iraq) and finish up the job. It is definitely a far more relevant film to view today than it was in 1997.
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Funny and Shocking How Real It Is.
powermandan19 July 2015
I personally don't like the news. All news just takes stories and negatively embellishes the heck out of them. Wag The Dog somewhat supports my theory but it really shows how the news can fake things just to make themselves look good. Although the movie is about the news, it's very concept can apply to all forms of mass media.

Wag the Dog is a political satire. It's whole point is to show how manipulative media is and how gullible the public is. Barry Levinson has a knack for making feel-good movies, so there's nothing too outrageous. The movie is about the President of the US who has sexual misconduct with an underage girl and breaks into the public two weeks before election. We never do see or hear him. Excellent move by Barry Levinson. De Niro plays a spin doctor who is determined to make the President look like a hero by creating a fictitious war with Albania. Why Albania? Albania is a very tiny country who many people have not heard of. De Niro gets a Hollywood producer (Hoffman) to help create the war by using fake stories and fake footage. The public buys it all. While watching this, keep in mind that the movie is a satire. Kirsten Dunst is an actress who plays an Albanian victim in a battleground in the phony newsreel. Wouldn't her parents think: "That girl looks exactly like my daughter"? Wouldn't headlines break about Albania's proof of denial of the whole war? As a satire, no. The movie's main focus is to make you laugh. Sure it is unrealistic, but that is where my mention of gullibility ties in. The stories are convincing, the footage looks real as can be, it is the biggest story in the country, so why not believe it? The movie puts everything in perspective by having a wild crew make every little thing convincing.

Make a Top 10 list of Hoffman and De Niro performances and movies, Wag the Dog would appear on all of them. Hoffman was nominated for an Oscar for his role as a smooth-sailing, flamboyant producer. De Niro (who I found to be just as good as Hoffman) plays a cocky spin doctor who is very admirable. Both guys are very funny. It is also funny to see just how realistic and possible Wag the Dog is. Who's to say fakeness isn't used to cover things up? This was released one month before the Clinton-Lewinsky scandal. Anybody that knows that scandal could see the connection between that and this movie.

If I could change anything in this film, I would increase the clarity from Albania's side and add more to the news footage. Other than that, the movie is very real and gets you thinking. What is real and what is fake? How smart are we?
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Get a load of this spin
Mr-Fusion13 February 2015
For my money, "Wag the Dog" is one of the sharpest satires in recent memory. The idea of a manufactured war to distract from scandal - this movie drags it to the limits of absurdity. It is astonishing how far spin doctor (De Niro) and producer (Hoffman) take this deceit. The two stars make a great screen pair. Hell, with the exception of Anne Heche (ugh, Anne Heche), it's wholly a pretty great cast.

If you're shaking your head in disbelief when the final credits roll, the movie did its job beautifully. It does paint a pretty disparaging picture of the American public. But that's nothing. This is some well put-together stuff.

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Amazingly relevant in 2017
webhexnlle26 February 2017
What about Sweden! When the US president in 2017 creates a fake incident in Sweden, fake "experts" in the Fox studio explain how Sweden is overrun with a refugee crime wave, this 20 year old movie suddenly becomes a lot less incredulous than it was perceived in it's day. And it's a hoot.
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Don't excite yourself, you'll be disappointed.
Patrick1 November 2009
Robert De Niro and Dustin Hoffman collaborate and con the entire United States voting public. Great idea, right?

Right. That's why it's so disappointing for me to only be able to rate this movie 5/10. De Niro is scruffy and jaded and dry (per usual, but he's great at it), Hoffman bumbles endearingly, and the entire production curls up and dies twenty minutes in. Color me unimpressed.

It's hard to tell what the writers thought the climax was, but they were wrong. Watch the first twenty minutes and you'll be in love, watch the first thirty and you'll be bored. Wag the Dog loses steam after it invests the entirety of itself in one joke: that the public will throw itself behind a war if only the media baits it in that direction.

The rest is downhill. Things go wrong as De Niro and Heche try to keep their heads above water until the election, but not wrong enough to be funny. I'm upset that more energy wasn't put into the script. Did nobody realize they had Robert De Niro and Dustin Hoffman on the same side of a political satire? Hello? Where was the quick, witty banter? It pains me to say that their interactions were funnier in Meet the Fockers.

All in all, lots of potential but an upsetting execution. The idea of this movie is funnier than the movie itself.
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Performing production
Polaris_DiB2 April 2009
Warning: Spoilers
Courtesy of Barry Levinson, right before the Clinton scandal, long before the War in Iraq, comes an essential part of the explanation for each. Media is biased more by the five o'clock deadline than it is by politics, but politics influence media and vice versa in a very close way. Thus comes an essential dark comedy from the 90s that analyzes the ways in which glamor building and a little interpretive spin can change America.

Robert de Niro plays one of his finest roles as Conrad Brean, a spin-doctor who has eleven days to keep the country distracted from a sex scandal so that his President can get re-elected. He joins up with Hollywood producer Stanley Motss (Dustin Hoffman) and creates a war. Crisis averted, but how long can they hold on? An important aspect to this is the lack of general compliance in the conspiracy theory. Dark meetings are held under the capital, but the CIA aren't informed. The President is fully knowing of the build-up, but becomes a prima-donna performer too distracted with theatrics to play ball. Reporters are subjected to the power of suggestion, but are willing to demand answers too.

This movie shares thematic and stylistic connections with Levinson's latest film with de Niro, What Just Happened?, but Wag the Dog I think will stand the test of time much better. Oh, and did I mention that it's hilarious? I almost forgot--deep belly laughs throughout.

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Theodore J. Rieth21 November 1998
Considering the clever plot line and the highly talented cast, I still marvel at the fact that I re-wound the video before the movie was completed. Perhaps I expected too much, but this movie peaked at the beginning and went down hill from there.
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