Volume 91, Issue 62

Tuesday, January 20, 1998

Little Bo Greek


Latest Levinson film is top breed

©Gazette File Photo
AT LEAST I GET TO WEAR A BOWTIE IN THIS ONE. Robert DeNiro, who is starring in way too many movies right now, plays Conrad Brean in Barry Levinson's Wag The Dog.

By Glen Conrad Brazier

Gazette Writer

When Barry Levinson (Good Morning Vietnam, Rain Man) directs a screenplay from David Mamet (The Untouchables, Glengarry Glen Ross) in a film featuring two of the greatest actors of the past 30 years (Dustin Hoffman, Robert De Niro) you've got a formula for how to make a great movie.

The cast and crew do not disappoint as Wag the Dog is certainly one of the best films of the past year. Hoffman especially should receive Oscar consideration for his role as Stanley Motss, a Hollywood producer called by Washington spin-doctor Conrad Brean (De Niro) to distract the public from a sex scandal involving none other than the President of the United States. All this just two weeks before the election. Thanks to Motss and Brean, the situation is "a piece of cake!" as Hoffman constantly reminds us.

Hoffman shines as an excitable storyteller who keeps referring to the situation as his picture. Along with De Niro, he decides the best way to turn attention away from the scandal is to make the public falsely believe there is a war with a small nation (Albania).

Also, every war has an image which becomes more memorable than the war itself. In order to create this image, he starts shooting footage of an alleged young Albanian girl attempting to flee her ruined village with her cat. This image will make the war believable. The girl, in fact, is an American actress in a sound stage. And the cat? A bag of Tostitos (the cat is digitally inserted later). Also, every war needs a song. Enter Willie Nelson who creates a spoof on "We Are The World" to be the war's anthem.

This film moves fast and the characters talk fast. Decisions are made and changed in a matter of seconds. The final product is a very funny and intelligent film. It deals with social issues by satirizing the groups involved – the media, politicians and even us, the public, who are gullible enough to believe their manipulations. After De Niro and Hoffman start this war, the other candidate, instead of revealing that there is no war, simply joins in attempting to use the war to his advantage. Why not? The public will believe anything their televisions tell them.

De Niro and Hoffman take turns at creating diversions from the scandal by using the motto "to change the story, change the lead" as the only rule they'll follow. Forget ethics, it's all about "making something 100 per cent fake look 100 per cent real" – just like in the movies. In that sense, this film is as much about filmmaking as it is about anything else. It deals with Motss's desire to "tell the story." He becomes increasingly angry because he won't get credit for his "film."

"The producer never gets any respect," he says.

This film is extremely funny, but in the end Wag the Dog is about more than a few laughs. It's about how television can legitimize anything and how the public has to start wondering who is in control. In the words of one character, "television destroyed the electoral process." Does the dog wag the tail or does the tail wag the dog?

To Contact The Arts and Entertainment Department: gazent@julian.uwo.ca

Copyright © The Gazette 1998