Directed by David Mamet

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Spartan - Directed by David Mamet
By James KeastDavid Mamet is known as a writer, not a filmmaker, despite the fact that he's added ten films to a playwriting resume that includes Glengarry Glen Ross and Oleanna, as well as screenwriting work like The Untouchables and Hannibal. But as a filmmaker, in efforts like The Spanish Prisoner and Spartan, he takes dense, twisting stories and whips them through their paces like thoroughbreds, not pausing for art or artifice and certainly not to let breathless patrons catch up. Pay attention or you will be lost. Spartan opens with a man with no name (Val Kilmer) who operates under deep cover in one of those funded yet denied American secret organisations. When the President's daughter is kidnapped, he springs into deadpan action to unravel a mystery and gets entangled in the political swamp. The other challenge with Mamet films is that beyond the baby steps of a premise lies a tangled web of unrevealable plot details. Dancing around that, we have Val Kilmer. Ah, Val Kilmer. Don't get me wrong, Spartan is a worthy enough political thriller: smart, twisty and mostly plausible. But it's difficult to resist spending the entire film putting other actors in Val Kilmer's role. Any other actors, in fact: Owen Wilson, Al Pacino, Weird Al Yankovic, Naomi Watts, Helena Bonham Carter. It seems anyone could have made this role more interesting, more compelling. But they didn't show up on set every day and Val Kilmer did, so he gets to do a commentary track (this DVD's only extra). Kilmer is a strange actor, but we get only hints of that on his deadpan offering; in fact, the most fun game becomes counting how long the pauses are between thoughts on his commentary. He may even have fallen asleep at one point, in which case there's no way he's gonna know how the end of Mamet's otherwise taut political thriller plays out. (Warner)
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