Retro Review: Wag The Dog

Wag The Dog Retro Review starring Al pacino and robert deniro

Wag The Dog – A Movie Review

Retro Review: Wag The Dog - Starring Dustin Hoffman and Al PacinoThis month here at Deluxe Video Online our the theme has been conspiracy theories and I decided it would be appropriate to dust off the 1997 hit Wag The Dog. Today we enjoy an access to information that is unprecedented.  Just look at the last few years: there’s Snowden (who is getting a biopic this year,) WikiLeaks, and any asshole can start a blog.

We now have unfiltered access to the presidential races, and this primary has been an eye opener for most. Take the Democratic primaries for instance:  Americans are finally grasping that their vote is truly meaningless if the super delegates decide to back another candidate.  On the other side of the aisle, people are openly speculating about a coup attempt at the Republican convention to oust the popular and unhinged orange tinted front runner.  Ahh, democracy in action!

This is indeed an amazing time, and while we still have misdirection and corruption, they are operating on  borrowed time. As the great Bob Dylan song goes: The Times They Are A Changing.

Wag The Dog (1997)

Wag The Dog examines America’s two most powerful bases – The Hollywood and Washington elite, and their symbiotic relationship. Wag The Dog breaks it down in a way that is not too high level and can be easily digested by the average viewer.

Retro Review: Wag The Dog - Starring Dustin Hoffman and Al PacinoAs the President is about to be embroiled in a scandal for molesting a young visitor to the White House two weeks before reelection, all seems to be lost…

Enter Conrad Brean, played confidently by Robert De Niro.  Brean is the archetypical political spin doctor that is brought in for damage control. Assessing the damage, Brean recruits a flamboyant semiretired Hollywood producer Stanley Motts (Dustin Hoffman.) An egomaniac for sure, but Motts appears up for the job. Together they contrive a fake war in Albania that will throw the media off the sex scandal until the election is over, and also make the president shine as a war-time leader.

Wagging My Tail

Retro Review: Wag The Dog - Starring Dustin Hoffman and Al Pacino
The cast is loaded for this project.

The performances and cameos are off the hook! The cast (at the time) was jam packed with legends and up and comers, and all were a pleasure to watch. From Dunst to Harrelson,  the supporting cast was superb. De Niro and Hoffman were as good as it gets in the 90’s and they did not disappoint in Wag The Dog. Both played their characters to perfection, especially Hoffman, who played his character with such a flair that modern day actors would benefit from watching his reels from Wag The Dog. Bottom line the casting was a pure treat!

Wag the Dog was meant to be a lampoon on the Gulf War, and in that it succeeded tremendously, but in re watching it almost twenty years later, Wag the Dog fits the narrative for the war on terror as well… Take a look at the early days with our conflict in Iraq, the parallels are chilling. It’s creepy how this material is absurd and convincing at the same time. Director Barry Levinson, working off an intelligent script by David Mamet based on the book “American Hero” by Larry Beinhart, deconstructs the media that accompanies any modern crisis. While seldom a conflict may be necessary (the Gulf War, for example), it will be packaged in a shallow and unquestioning way; much like sportswriters, war correspondents abandon any pretense and gleefully root for the home team.

Tail Between My Legs

Retro Review: Wag The Dog - Starring Dustin Hoffman and Al Pacino
What we need is a big finish!

Growing up on Oliver Stone conspiracy movies Wag the Dog is a breath of fresh air, but that’s not to say it’s not  without its faults.  My only complaint is that (without giving away spoilers) Wag the Dog segmented itself into a bunch of small skits, and never really felt seamless. Wag The Dog was great but it’s sequencing and failure to have a truly satisfying ending took this film down a notch for me.

Final Thoughts

Wag The Dog still works nearly twenty years after its foray into films, the laughs are still there to be had, the performances are on point and despite the muddled and disappointing ending the message remains poignant.

Retro Review: Wag The Dog - Starring Dustin Hoffman and Al Pacino
Now on to the next crisis.









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