“Wag the Dog” – 1997. Dir. Barry Levinson.

With Dustin Hoffman, Robert DeNiro, Anne Heche, Denis Leary, William H. Macy, Craig T. Nelson with Woody Harrelson and Willie Nelson.

“You want me to produce your war?”

  • Stanely Motss (Dustin Hoffman)

This is a film directed by Barry Levinson, written by David Mamet, produced by Robert DeNiro and original music by Mark Knopfler – and oh yeah, look at the cast. This is a politically satirical film that almost seems a foreshadowing to Bill Clinton’s sex scandal.

The President of the United States is accused of sexual misconduct by a teenage girl upon a tour of the oval office and a private meeting with the President. It is eleven days until his re-election and he’s drastically up in the polls, but when the story breaks that he had “inappropriate” relations with a teenage girl, his political future is finished.

So what happens? Conrad Breen (Robert DeNiro) who is a master of political spin employees a Hollywood producer Stanley Motss (Hoffman) to produce a war between Albania and the United States to divert the media away from the sex scandal and to bring American attention to this fictitious war.

Hoffman then rallies all of his friends together to create the biggest production in the history of America. Denis Leary portrays the fast talking Fad King who is an expert of product placement and gimics, Willie Nelson is Johnny Dean an alcoholic and incoherent song writer who writes the theme song for the Albanian war, along with a song about the war’s hero, entitled “That Old Shoe”. Woody Harrelson plays the ex-con serviceman, Willaim Schumman, who they parade around as the hero of the Albanian war (until he gets killed while trying to rape a gas station owner’s daughter).

This film is incredibly funny and smart, perhaps even too smart for laymen of politics. The reason I’m so intrigued and taken by the film is that politics is one of my absolute biggest hobbies. The entire script is so airtight; it’s a wonderful display of showmanship of all parties. It’s wonderful to see DeNiro parade around, taking command of the situations that arise, often quoting politicians and many other historical figures.

The film begins to take a more and more dramatic turn when Hoffman begins to elude that he’s going to have a wonderful story to tell, about how he produced this war, how he doesn’t want an Ambassadorship, he just did it for the credit. DeNiro will frequently tell Hoffman that he can never tell anyone about this, that his lips need to remain sealed – and of course Hoffman always says he’s joking – or is he?

The films is packed full with amazing talent, amazing actors who have very small parts: William H. Macy plays a CIA agent who detains DeNiro and Heche because the CIA knows the war is bullshit, and are going to oust them. DeNiro makes a deal with them, but later that day the Senator challenging the sitting president (played by Craig T. Nelson) goes on TV and says the war has come to an end. Apparently Craig T. Nelson made a better deal with Macy!

DeNiro is excellent, proving that he still is a great actor, but this film really belongs to Dustin Hoffman as the egotistical producer who is based on Robert Evans. Hoffman is nothing more than a tour-de-force and steals every scene he’s in. This is Hoffman’s last great performance as well as Levinson’s last great film. This film would have been a lot better without Anne Heche – who is and always has been pretty lame. Maybe try dating another lesbian for publicity?

Review: 8.5/10

Author: Frank Mengarelli

Everybody relax, Frank's here. After going to film school at Columbia College Chicago, Frank decided to underachieve with his vast knowledge of film into a career in civil service. Frank had a brief stint as a film blogger, and then he met the heterosexual love of his life, Nick Clement. The two instantly bonded over their love from everything to Terence Malick to THE EXPENDABLES films. Some of Frank's favorite filmmakers are Terence Malick, Martin Scorsese, Quentin Tarantino, Sylvester Stallone, Oliver Stone and Spike Lee. Some of his favorite films are THE TREE OF LIFE, STAR WARS (all of them), BAD LIEUTENANT, THE THING and ALL THAT JAZZ. Frank spends his free time with his dog Roger, collecting any Star Wars collectible he can find and trying to finish his pretentious, first person narrative novel(la), LARGE MEN IN SMALL CARS..

8 thoughts on ““Wag the Dog” – 1997. Dir. Barry Levinson.”

  1. God. I was sixteen when I saw this, and forced my girlfriend to see it with me who wanted to see some teen flick, but my DeNiro obsession couldn’t be deterred. She hated it and I loved it, even though I didn’t fully understand how huge the scope of the comedy was, and as I’ve gotten older (meh) I’ve been able to appreciate it even more. No surprise you loved it too. Just because you are fancy like that.

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