R E V I E W   B Y   R I C H   C L I N E dir-scr David Mamet
with Val Kilmer, Derek Luke, William H Macy, Ed O'Neill, Tia Texada, Kristen Bell, Stephen Culp, Clark Gregg, Aaron Stanford, Said Taghmaoui, Mark Pellegrino, David Paymer
release US 12.Mar.04, UK 6.Aug.04
04/US 1h46

Send one man: Kilmer and Luke.

kilmer luke macy
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Spartan Here's another tricky, twisty thriller from Mamet that keeps us thoroughly involved as we try to figure out what's really happening while he continuously, and annoyingly, throws us off the scent. Yes, it's corny and a bit too mysterious, but it also has a startlingly inventive conclusion, which is what we now expect from Mamet: After a film laced with obscurity and conspiracy, he'll pull out the trump card at the end!

Scott (Kilmer) is a leader in an elite fighting force that might be a private militia or perhaps a covert branch of the US Secret Service. When the daughter (Bell) of a politician (the president? a city councilman? who knows!) is kidnapped, he goes into full-on hunt-down mode, taking along a rookie (Luke) while the top dogs (Macy and O'Neill) help from the shadows. But the situation gets increasingly complicated as it leads to a prostitution ring, terrorists and Arabs, and Scott might have to go it alone if he's going to rescue the girl.

There's a vicious and extremely witty tone that keeps the film lively and spellbinding. This is a slow-burning thriller that drizzles out details at a carefully planned rate, gradually filling in the blanks and answering most of our questions (and we have a lot of them!). As always, Mamet surrounds himself with craftsmen who create movies that look terrific. And the cast is fascinatingly enigmatic, obviously enjoying the intelligent dialog and complicated situations, as well as the film's extreme subtleties. Kilmer and Luke are both extremely good--evasive but intriguing, with just enough emotional depth even though there's virtually no back story at all. The main problem is that the narrative is evasive as well; we can't trust Mamet as a storyteller! He spins the yarn from his own perspective, never getting a character's point of view because he never tells us what the characters themselves know. This leaves us out in the cold, which can work very well in something darkly witty like The Spanish Prisoner, but leaves us mostly confused in a political thriller like this.

cert 15 themes, strong violence, language 1.Jul.04

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2004 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall