Starring: Dustin Hoffman, Robert De Niro, Anne Heche, Denis Leary
Director: Barry Levinson
There is not too much more to be said about the premise of “Wag the Dog” that hasn’t been said already in light of unmentionable goings-on at the White House.
Conrad Brean (DeNiro) is a Presedential spin doctor who is consulted by top aide, Winifred Ames (Heche), when the President is accused of getting involved with a White House intern in the Oval Office. With a Presedential election just weeks away, both of them know that they must act fast in order to divert attention from the bubbling scandal.
Brean invents an international conflict between the United States and Albania. In order to ensure that the public believe that a war is actually happening, he enlists the help of Hollywood producer, Stanley Motss (Hoffman). Motss is given responsibility for shooting scenes that will be used in news reports while Willie Nelson is hired to perform a spontaneous war “anthem”.
The CIA are not impressed. They guess what is going on and go to lengths to end the charade. But Brean and Motss has more tricks up their sleeve and they up their efforts in order to ensure a successful campaign for the President. When the war is ended prematurely in the media, they invent another scenario where troops have to return to Albania to rescue a POW called William Schumann (Woody Harrelson in typical bald-headed fashion).
The dialogue was mainly written by David Mamet and the quality in the exchanges between Hoffman and DeNiro is exquisite. DeNiro is a quick-thinking manipulative brain-box and his partnership with the insecure but intelligent Hoffman is the highlight of the film. Both of them deliver very different but striking performances. Anne Heche does well as DeNiro’s slightly neurotic sidekick and helps to add elements of fragility to the whole exercise. There are entertaining performances too from Leary, Harrelson and Nelson too.
The film moves along quickly and the entertainment is instantaneous right from the opening frame. There are times when tedium sets in momentarily – the characters at time becomes flat and the movie seems to lull into a slightly repetitve pattern. However, this is never a huge problem and thanks to the humour, biting satire (which is not too far from reality in all seriousness) and performances, “Wag the Dog” is a film that is well worth seeing.