Friday, March 12, 2004

Spartan (IMDB) (Netflix)
For those whose belief in the villainy of politicians and their handlers is rarely shaken, here's your film. The president's daughter is missing, and Val Kilmer is the just-tell-me-what-to-do operative who tries to find her. While this might seem like a straight-ahead mystery/thriller, this is a David Mamet production, and there's little that's typical here.

Unless you're a Mamet aficionado, of course. Except for Kilmer, casting came directly from Mamet's speed-dial, the dialog is clipped and hard-ass and direction is, well, spartan. The story is by no means predictable, unfolding tantalizingly slowly through the first act, and with an expository spareness that will generate lots of questions among the non-cognoscenti (choose your movie neighbors with care). Kilmer does a nice job of adapting to—or at least overcoming—Mamet's rhythms (not every actor has succeeded) and there's a minor chord of conspiratorial menace and John CarrĂ©-like futility that brings depth to the proceedings. To be sure, the plot has a couple of rough spots, and many will find the stripped-down style less absorbing than the usual explosion fest, but this film is for people who listen more closely to the voice that whispers.