Film Reviews


By • Mar 14th, 2004 •

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Warner Bros. Pictures / Franchise Pictures presentation
Running time — 106

It takes at least 20 minutes to figure out what is going on. Of course, writer/director David Mamet can get away with this. He uses dialogue that only he hears people speak. Yet this time, he chooses a subject matter that works perfectly with curt, no-frills dialogue. SPARTAN is a taut, political thriller that is so stingy on exposition that soon you go, okay, these guys are speaking in their own shorthand and rules don’t apply. They are all military-trained killers who can only talk to each other this way.

We first meet Robert Scott (Val Kilmer), a special ops officer, running highly motivated candidates through vigorous training exercises. Scott is called in on a very senior-level immediate assignment. A young girl has been kidnapped right off a street in Boston. Scott, and one of his young recruits, Curtis (Derek Luke), are called in to find her. Apparently, the girl, Laura Newton (Kristen Bell), is the daughter of the president of the United States.
Mamet chose a good subject to engage in. The audience knows we are in the covert operations world. No one is going to sit down and draw us diagrams. We do expect Scott to be very, very good at his job.

Scott has a mere few days to get the girl back before the media finds out she is missing.

It takes Scott a mere stroll through Harvard Square to find out the girl might have been kidnapped by a white slavery ring operating out of Dubai. Using the FBI, CIA and Secret Service, Scott has enough technical assistance to tract the girl down. Even after killing a few people that got in his way, Scott is asked if he would do anything to get the job done. I was wondering exactly what that might entail.

This being a political thriller, it is best to stop discussing the story here. There are several major twists and turns and a satisfying conclusion. By this I mean Scott does not all of a sudden catch a lucky break. The intelligence of the men and the complexity of the operation keep us involved.

While the direction is a tad wooden at times (and let’s face it, not everyone can handle dialogue that is meant to be spit out in an unrecognizable cadence), Kilmer handles the tough rhythm of Mamet’s dialogue with ease. Kilmer’s cinematic sex appeal is back on tract.

This is the kind of story that actually requires Mamet-speak. We do not want sensitive, introspective men out there hunting bin Laden. The worldview here is grimy. There is no pleasure found in back rooms and makeshift staging posts. Cinematographer Juan Ruiz Anchia drains color out of everything and editor Barbara Tulliver makes us nervous with pensive cuts and scenes laden with tension. Mark Isham’s score also is quite effective. The movie is really all about Scott, and Kilmer is tough, slimmed-down, and commands respect as the ruthless agent sent because, as he well understands, he doesn’t do the planning. He does as he is told. Mamet successfully writes a character that is seductive in his commitment to killing without a trace of regret.

Director-screenwriter: David Mamet
Producers: Art Linson, Moshe Diamant, Elie Samaha
Executive producer: Frank Hubner
Director of photography: Juan Ruiz Anchia
Production designer: Gemma Jackson
Editor: Barbara Tulliver
Costume designer: Shay Cunliffe
Music: Mark Isham

Robert Scott: Val Kilmer
Laura Newton: Kristen Bell
Curtis: Derek Luke
Stoddard: William H. Macy

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