Ever wonder what happens behind the scenes with Presidential spin control? What happens when a President – who’s up for re-election in a few days – does something really horrible? How do you deal with this problem? Confront the problem head on? Attack the problem from the side? No, hire a spin control artist and just make people forget about the problem all together.
The President in Wag the Dog has a 17% lead in the polls. But, he has done something wrong. Something completely wrong that will send his 17% lead down the toilet. What’s he done? Did he kill someone? Did he steal something? Political policy gone awry? No, think Girl Scout – actually, Firefly girl. Think young.
So, what’s a top Presidential aide, Winifred Ames (Anne Henche), going to do? Bring in the best spin doctor around, Conrad Bream (Robert De Niro). Bream has an idea on how to control the situation – just steer the attention away from the Firefly girl for long enough to get the President re-elected. And what better to get the attention of the American people than a war? Bream contacts a Hollywood producer, Stanley Motss (Dustin Hoffman), about producing a war. Motss likes the idea and is willing to produce the war. And from here the US goes to war with Albania. And the dirt hungry American people have forgotten about the Firefly girl and have taken up with the war in Albania.
Wag the Dog is a hilarious satire about how close Hollywood and politics really are. How Hollywood and politics really do hold hands together. But, it goes a bit farther than that, Wag the Dog shows how Hollywood, politics, and the media in general are holding hands with each other. This is an intelligent film that has something for us to think about, but all the while not burdening us too hard with it.
The actors in Wag the Dog seem to be having a great time. De Niro is playing a part he usually doesn’t get to play, and that is the part of someone who is not out to break your face or kill you. De Niro gets to play a brilliant and intelligent man who is out to help the President. And he does a great job with this. Henche, coming off her awful performance in I Know What You Did Last Summer, does a great job with her part as the Presidential aide who is willing to do just about anything to get the President re-elected. And Hoffman is just superb as Hollywood producer Motss. Among these leads are many cameos throughout the film which are absolutely hilarious to see. Among the cameos is Kirsten Dunst as an Albanian girl in some news footage, Denis Leary as some sort of creative guy, Willie Nelson as a musical guy, William H. Macy as a CIA guy, Craig T. Nelson as the Presidential opponent, Woody Harrelson as a military guy, and James Belushi as himself.
The script by Hilary Henkin and David Mamet is intelligent and funny. The direction by Barry Levinson is steady. And worth mentioning is the wonderful music by Mark Knopfler. The only nitpicking that I have about the film is the spotty camera work. Most of the camera work is great with the exception of a few shots which just feel wrong – to be specific there are some quick zooms that felt out of place.
Wag the Dog is definitely a Don’t Miss Film. I found myself laughing out loud, along with the audience, during most of the film. The performances are great and the cameos are even better. And you’ll want to see the film to find out why dogs wag their tails.