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Overall Rating

Awesome: 40.68%
Worth A Look45.76%
Average: 3.39%
Pretty Bad: 1.69%
Total Crap: 8.47%

5 reviews, 29 user ratings

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by Jason Whyte

"'Hey Spartan...Will You Go To Lunch?'"
5 stars

David Mamet can write dialogue so strong and convincing that it escapes the bounds of reality and situates itself in the moment; the same way that Billy Wilder, Paul Thomas Anderson, Charlie Kaufman or Woody Allen invent their characters through how they speak to one another. Mamet's work from one film to the next demonstrates his ability to get us right alongside the characters and make us feel like a participant in the story. That he's still doing it so well with his latest, the under-publicized "Spartan," is surely something.

I mentioned the film was "under-publicized". I didn't know this film existed until last week. "Ebert and Roeper at the Movies" talked about this film and touted it as an "early review". The clips played, the dialogue sparkled and they both agreed the film was outstanding. So how come I hadn't heard of it? Warner Bros., the film's distributor, seems to be hiding this film from the filmgoer, fearing that this is too smart and edgy for the common multiplex hound. With only 800 screens and hardly any advance screenings for critics -- EVERY Warner film in Victoria, BC, where I'm from, has had an advance screening except for this one -- that screams with the assumption the film is awful and won't do well. In this case, they fear the film is too smart for 3,000 screens. (Instead, they seem to be pumping a whole lot of publicity into the upcoming "Taking Lives" with Angelina Jolie, which is a film so bone-headed and dreadful that they DID have advance screenings for press.)

But enough of my ranting. More about the movie. Val Kilmer, in one of his best performances to date, plays Scott, a marine who works as a Secret Ops officer. Scott, looking like he's had years and years of hard work and stress forced upon his weary face, is summoned away from his military base work when a daughter of a government official is kidnapped. The reason is unclear at first, but it brings together different branches of the government (CIA, FBI, Secret Service) and the more we watch, the more we learn about the actual identity of this girl and the reason she was abducted in the first place.

This all sounds like Tom Clancy territory, but what's surprising about "Spartan" is how Mamet's direction and use of dialogue rips apart typical conventions of the political thriller genre. While his characters may sound like they're just talking in shorthand to one another (when Ed O'Neill suddenly shows up as one of the government's higher-ups, his introductory line is probably the best delivery of "Where's the girl?" I've ever heard), they know what they're doing and they think exactly how they should. They're thoughtful. And their confidence makes us confident in watching their actions and the story unfold, and we as an audience become as involved as the players.

Some minor examples: when one of Scott's military trainees, Curtis (Derek Luke) , who is just as wrapped in this story, explains what's happening with the kidnapped girl, his expressions with Kilmer and how he says "Sir!" to his superior is memorable. And when another government official named Stoddard (William H. Macy) shows up, we see so little of him and think that it's an edited-down performance, but it hits us later. Hard.

There's also a sequence that involves the mentioning of the title of the film, and a lesser film would result to this scene as a throwaway; as if the filmmakers couldn't figure out a title so they just picked a buzz-word from the screenplay. Here, the title makes sense with Kilmer's character and drive, and it follows it all the way until the very last shot.

I feel that I've written so much and yet I've touched so lightly on the genius of the film. It's a film of hints and clues, of betrayal and hidden truths. It plays with the viewer, but in a good way, surprising us but not cheating its secrets. And in a day and age where a movie runs out of steam as the events move along, here's one that keeps rolling along to the Spartan-esque finale.

Some might call much of this unrealistic, that the "talk" in films like this is not how people talk. But part of the charm of Mamet's writing is through his creative expression, that this talk makes good drama that gets us to the cinema in the first place. That he brings his writing talents so well to the filmmaking world -- yes, campers, he certainly directs a solid film too, with a solid and likable style that doesn't overdo itself -- is just icing on the cake. "Spartan" is a terrific film.

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originally posted: 03/14/04 21:28:18
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User Comments

2/17/10 jreneski interesting remake of Helen of Troy complete with a Trojan Horse 4 stars
3/23/08 david good plot, horrible acting 2 stars
5/20/07 R.W. Welch Murky in spots, but a watchable political thriller. 4 stars
11/28/05 kemperman watchable but flawed 3 stars
10/26/05 Katie Evridge Pointless 1 stars
10/11/05 Agent Sands Not nearly as good as "Heist," but I love a shady, sinister protagonist. 4 stars
9/20/05 ERIC ROBERT WILKINSON Mamet makes a film unlike any of his other work, and brimming with greatness! 4 stars
7/04/05 Ice Queen engaging 5 stars
4/19/05 Indrid Cold That Mamet dialogue; half the time you don't know what they're talking about. 4 stars
4/07/05 Landshark If you have any brains, bring em, you'll need em. 5 stars
2/12/05 Joe Uninteresting characters, plot makes no sense 1 stars
1/22/05 Tjalda L. Schiel Finally Val Kilmer looks good. Mamet makes it all happen. 5 stars
1/05/05 Dave Chen Great! Must see! 5 stars
7/31/04 Uncle Phucker Slow and exciting simultaneously. The best film of the year so far. 5 stars
7/12/04 Dann Carter intriguing,Val Kilmer is good as usual,definitely worth a look! 4 stars
7/10/04 maureen baker wow- a great film with all sorts of betrayal, suspense and mayhem. Incredible acting! 5 stars
7/09/04 David C Good story, not predicatble, Mamet style makes it work. Kilmer in a good movie for a change 5 stars
7/04/04 Brilliant story arc unfolds with twists and turns and pulls you along. Kilmer is a badass. 5 stars
6/28/04 Bill K Ridiculous plot (holes everywhere). Nobody wears kevlar. Stupid conspiracy idea. 1 stars
4/24/04 We ARE in World War III. That's a FACT! DAMN hollywood for trashing that truth in the mouth of one of its piddling villains! 1 stars
4/24/04 Jenny Tullwartz None of characters likeable, plot often ioncomprensibly brutal, geography wrong 1 stars
3/29/04 NoRefill Good movie. Typical Mamet dialogue, twists, acting. Entertaining story, a little overdone. 4 stars
3/28/04 S. Ritter Keeps you talking -- and think -- long after you have left the theatre. 5 stars
3/26/04 George Hart In a class by itself in this genre, fantastic 5 stars
3/22/04 Manning Good plot, good directing, definately worth seeing 5 stars
3/21/04 True Grit This film kicked ass. Finally Mamet has learned to use his style entertainly. 5 stars
3/16/04 Mike R. Good plot, not great acting/char dev. 3 stars
3/15/04 Laurie DeLeve Good guys a little too good, bad guys are drawn just a little too bad. 4 stars
3/13/04 V. Smith Solid, but 'art house,' espionage thriller. 4 stars
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  12-Mar-2004 (R)
  DVD: 15-Jun-2004



Directed by
  David Mamet

Written by
  David Mamet

  Val Kilmer
  Derek Luke
  William H. Macy
  Kristen Bell
  Alexandra Kerry
  Johnny Messner

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