Eye For Film >> Movies >> Spartan (2004) Film Review
Reviewed by: David Haviland
David Mamet films are like detective stories, or magic tricks. He shows you everything you need to know, but nothing is what it seems. This is a key part of their appeal, as each line or glance might be a vital clue, keeping the audience on edge.
At least they used to. The sad fact is that as good as Spartan is, it lacks the playfulness and originality of Mamet's best films, such as The Spanish Prisoner.
Like his last, Heist, Spartan is more grounded in genre than the previous work and suffers from it, as the ingenuity of the execution fails to disguise the routine characters and plot.
It's a story that Tom Clancy might have written. Val Kilmer plays Scott, a bullet-headed military expert called in to rescue the abducted daughter of a high-profile politician. The plot involves the highest echelons of the military, CIA and government and takes place across North America and the Middle East.
All Mamet's considerable strengths are on display. The dialogue fizzes, full of jargon and hidden meanings, conveying character while seeming determined to do the opposite.
The storytelling is delightfully oblique, consistently withholding information and leading us up blind alleys, yet always one step ahead and determinedly logical.
The acting is first rate, too. Mamet always lets the story tell the story, rather than the actor, and in doing so even manages to get a good performance out of Kilmer - certainly a first this millennium.
Spartan even looks like a proper thriller. For all their charms, Mamet's early films had a stagy, mannered quality that kept the viewer at arm's length. Spartan's production design is full of impressive details and has a stylish graininess perfectly suited to the genre.
However, despite all this, it is a dull story, with unconvincing, unappealing characters. Scott is like a charmless Jack Ryan, without any of the doubts or fears that would make such a character believable.
The plot is equally routine; a political thriller about corruption and power and the soldier's struggle between following orders and personal integrity. Although there's much to admire, we've seen this story before and we've seen it done better.Reviewed on: 06 Aug 2004