More in-depth film festival coverage than any other website!
Home Reviews  Articles  Release Dates Coming Soon  DVD  Top 20s Criticwatch  Search
Public Forums  Festival Coverage  Contests About 

Overall Rating

Awesome: 28.57%
Worth A Look37.5%
Average: 21.43%
Pretty Bad: 7.14%
Total Crap: 5.36%

3 reviews, 38 user ratings

Latest Reviews

Harry Chapin: When in Doubt, Do Something by Rob Gonsalves

Trial of the Chicago 7, The by Rob Gonsalves

St. Elmo's Fire by Jack Sommersby

Talent for the Game by Jack Sommersby

Lupin III: The Castle of Cagliostro by Jay Seaver

Borat Subsequent Moviefilm by Peter Sobczynski

Lupin the Third (2014) by Jay Seaver

Lupin III: The First by Jay Seaver

Caddyshack by Jack Sommersby

Over the Moon by Jay Seaver

subscribe to this feed

Wag the Dog
[] Buy posters from this movie
by Rob Gonsalves

"Loose, scrappy comedy from Levinson and Mamet."
5 stars

'Wag the Dog' has the loose, improvisational rhythm of a group of great musicians jamming at a club, performing at their peaks and surprising each other and themselves.

This low-budget studio release does what Heat and Sleepers failed to do: it collects a cast of legends and up-and-comers and lets them have fun working together. The fun is contagious; Wag the Dog feels tossed-off and casual in the best way -- not too heavy, not too much riding on it. To over-analyze its satire -- or to overrate it -- is to suck most of the life out of it.

As a satire, it's probably the 417th black comedy to break the news that the media is evil and we are being lied to. Wow, stop the presses. What distinguishes Wag the Dog is its systematic approach to media deception. The movie invites us behind closed doors, where we rub elbows with Washington spin doctors and Hollywood illusionists, and they show us how everything works (or, theoretically, could work). Taking this tour, we're not so much disturbed as oddly flattered, the way we are when Richard III turns and confides in us (and only us) in his asides.

The script, by Hilary Henkin (Romeo Is Bleeding) and legendary playwright David Mamet, shares its basic premise with Michael Moore's less successful satire Canadian Bacon, where the President declared war on Canada to boost his flagging polls in the wake of weapons-factory shutdowns. Wag the Dog concerns itself much more with the process, the mechanics of manipulation on a grand scale. Here, we go to "war" with Albania (why? why not?) to distract the American public from the President's recent misadventure with a Firefly Girl days before re-election.

The joke is that there never is a war, only a media mirage (and barrage) that cranks up public hatred of Albania and support for America's defense of freedom. Presidential advisor Winifred Ames (Anne Heche) calls in the big gun: spin master Conrad Brean (Robert De Niro), who lays the groundwork for the "war" (deny everything; people expect the government to issue denials) and then calls in his own big gun. Stanley Motss (Dustin Hoffman), a fantastically successful movie producer who feels unappreciated by Hollywood, jumps at the chance to help Conrad set the stage for the war: "a little song, a little dance, a pageant."

Nobody who watched the protracted CNN video game called the Gulf War will find Wag the Dog all that far-fetched. As director Barry Levinson has pointed out, the Gulf War may not have been faked, but it could easily have been. Levinson, whose directorial hand was so heavy and lugubrious in Sleepers, snaps awake here and puts up a piece of jittery, hand-held, on-the-fly filmmaking. He seems relieved to be working so fast, cheap, and in control, as do all of his actors. Hoffman in particular makes Stanley not just a crass producer but a hopped-up ersatz sorcerer getting high on the snap, crackle and pop of his own "creativity." His satirical performance is sharper for being genuinely affectionate; he loves this tanned weasel, and so do we.

Part of the fun of Wag the Dog is its respect for professionalism: These people may be scoundrels, but they know what they're doing, they love what they do, and they're great at it. That extends to everyone involved in the movie, from the cast to the cinematographer (Robert Richardson, taking a breather from Oliver Stone movies) and the composer (Mark Knopfler, whose deadpan riffs perfectly suit the action). Is this a great movie? Not quite; it lacks the pitiless circular snake-eating-its-tail shape of classic satire -- the ending is dark but could have been a lot darker. "They're nice guys, they just haven't thought it out," says Conrad of the CIA who meddle in the fake war, and that could describe the screenwriters during the last act.

Still, you don't expect shape and structure from a jam session; you're there to hear great artists making music. 'Wag the Dog' hits one true note after another.

link directly to this review at
originally posted: 01/11/07 07:23:35
[printer] printer-friendly format  

User Comments

9/08/19 Karen_S terrific script and cast -- very funny 5 stars
5/27/14 Joe Smaltz loved the fast banter, as a political wonk, the plot was frightenly believable. 5 stars
1/06/11 victar It's a scary possibility 4 stars
8/14/08 Charles Tatum Smug and condescending, I got tired of being insulted 3 stars
4/16/07 mar shit of movie 1 stars
3/28/07 fools♫gold It's "Network" gone average, if that's at all possible. 3/5 or 4/5. 3 stars
2/08/07 Victoria L Horribly slow-paced, unrealistic and simply not very convincing overall. SUCKS ASS 1 stars
10/03/05 steve b Brilliant! Wife and I loved it both times we viewed 5 stars
7/06/05 Indrid Cold Satirizes a very easy target; not particularly funny or thought-provoking. 3 stars
1/06/05 Jeffrey Banks So right, Robyn. I love you! You'd marry me, 'cept you don't want to be Robyn Banks. 4 stars
1/06/05 Robyn Jamil-Walid Best part is one of last undeflowered appearances of Kirsten Dunst. 4 stars
11/02/04 muddy Like Dr. Strangelove... very disturbing comedy/reality 5 stars
10/23/04 UMER both the great actors proving their metal once more and the result is just HILARIOUS 5 stars
12/08/03 john Hoffman plays Evans - wonderful satire 5 stars
11/08/03 Agent Sands (previously Mr. Hat) Very very clever, very entertaining. Well-written & acted. 4 stars
4/13/03 Mystique Funny 4 stars
3/31/03 spacecowboy it was kind of weird. 4 stars
3/08/03 Jack Sommersby Sharp and funny. Super dialogue and priceless performance by Hoffman. 4 stars
8/23/02 R.W. Welch Lacks the sharp writing needed for a good satirical pic. Doesn't quite click. 3 stars
5/15/02 Jeffrey Banks So right, Robyn. I love you! You'd marry me, 'cept you don't want to be Robyn Banks. 4 stars
5/15/02 Robyn Jamil-Walid Best part is one of last undeflowered appearances of Kirsten Dunst. 4 stars
4/05/01 Hawkeye A great analysis of politics in the US. Any politically-minded person should check it out. 5 stars
10/06/00 Monday Morning Outstanding cast & satire. The smarter you are the more you'll like it. 5 stars
2/25/00 Bozo Liked Woody Harrelson's cameo & maybe another moment or two at most 2 stars
11/04/99 Karahde Khan Great cast, but totally wasted. It disappointed and bored me. 2 stars
6/10/99 Homer J. Simpson This movie was funny and had perfect actors 4 stars
4/07/99 unstrung im sorry, but this movie REALLY SUCKS ALL ASS, everyone cast in this film was out of place 1 stars
1/24/99 Lucy B. Boring and pointless. Greatly overrated. 2 stars
11/27/98 Mr.Pink Boring satire with dissapointing performances.. 2 stars
10/28/98 Silent Rob Great concept, Great cast, it just kinda ran out of steam. 4 stars
10/08/98 PyThomas So good it's .... creepy. 5 stars
10/05/98 Johny "We thought we were making a satire, now it's a documentry" -- Denis Leary 4 stars
9/25/98 Foxgirl Pretty realistic.A good film with great actors. 4 stars
9/04/98 Badass Compelling and a hoot! 5 stars
8/28/98 Mister Whoopee Might have been prophetic, but that doesn't make it compelling. 3 stars
8/24/98 The Capital City Goofball Like Nostradamus and shit. 4 stars
8/21/98 Ryan_A Overrated. Yet, timely and oddly prophetic. 3 stars
Note: Duplicate, 'planted,' or other obviously improper comments
will be deleted at our discretion. So don't bother posting 'em. Thanks!
Your Name:
Your Comments:
Your Location: (state/province/country)
Your Rating:

Discuss this movie in our forum

  25-Dec-1997 (R)



Home Reviews  Articles  Release Dates Coming Soon  DVD  Top 20s Criticwatch  Search
Public Forums  Festival Coverage  Contests About Australia's Largest Movie Review Database.
Privacy Policy | HBS Inc. | |   

All data and site design copyright 1997-2017, HBS Entertainment, Inc.
Search for
reviews features movie title writer/director/cast