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Overall Rating

Awesome: 40%
Worth A Look46.67%
Just Average: 3.33%
Pretty Crappy: 1.67%
Sucks: 8.33%

5 reviews, 30 user ratings

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by Robert Flaxman

"A decent, if vague, thriller."
4 stars

The title of David Mamet's Spartan probably comes from a story told to the main character, Scott (Val Kilmer), that somewhat describes him - how Leonidas, king of Sparta, would send just one man when neighboring city-states would request military assistance. Indeed, Scott is very much a Spartan in that sense; though he is rarely completely alone during the film, he seems to prefer working that way - he is a one-man army willing to do anything to complete his objective. In another sense, though, the title is stylistically meta-referential and might as well refer to Mamet's entire oeuvre, particularly that of recent years.

As a writer and director, Mamet is mostly concerned with the action; spare details are not necessary, to the point where it's almost difficult to understand what's supposed to be happening in the film. Mamet doesn't like to bother with those cumbersome things known as "backstories;" he's more interested in the here and now, and some snappy dialogue wherever he can work it in.

Mamet's ascetic style and frequent eschewing of extras (films like Heist and The Spanish Prisoner seem to take place in worlds inhabited by very few people other than their characters) make his films seem like little more than filmed plays, which should be little surprise, really, considering his roots. On that level, Spartan is easily one of his best films, because it's a bit less like that but particularly because to the extent that it is the same type of film, it doesn't fall victim to the traps that his other recent thrillers did.

Spartan's best quality is its 106 minutes of nonstop tension. The opening scenes aren't anything special, but because we are thrown into them, we are disoriented long enough for Mamet to dispense with the pretense of backstory and get right into the meat - the president's daughter is missing and the Secret Service is trying to find her. Tightening the screws almost immediately, Mamet refuses to let them up for the rest of the film. Very little of Spartan's plot is anything innovative, but the grip Mamet maintains on the viewer makes such a quibble seem irrelevant.

The dialogue, while very distinctly Mamet at times, is far more realistic here than in a film like Heist, where it seems like Mamet just sat around thinking of lines that sounded clever and various ways to insult the Swiss, and then crammed them all into one script and hoped it worked. Spartan's characters address each other in a way that is characteristically Mamet's, but their speech is largely absent the attempted-joke-a-minute bluster of Heist or The Spanish Prisoner's vacant truisms.

The problem Spartan does have is much like that of The Spanish Prisoner - just how much of the action is a construct? As the trailer reveals, so I don't have to feel too bad about giving it away, Scott eventually finds out that there's just about no one in whatever government entity he's supposed to be a part of that he can trust. The problem with this is that it implies that the movie's first hour was basically a great big construct by the government, for, apparently, the benefit of Scott. Why does the government need to fool Scott, who is merely an operative who will, by his own admission, follow whatever orders he's given? Like Prisoner before it, Spartan gets a little shaky if examined too closely under the microscope.

Apart from that, and the deus ex machina ending, Spartan is an enjoyable film. Kilmer turns in some solid work as Scott - he's rather stiff, but he feels built to be that way, and somehow his stiffness is actually quite entertaining. None of the supporting characters seems to rate more than 20 minutes' worth of screen time, so it seems kind of pointless to talk about them, but nobody is a Rebecca Pidgeon-esque sore thumb, which is fine.

Though it never really approaches Mamet's best work like Glengarry Glen Ross, Spartan is his best thriller in at least a decade. In the end it is little more than a minor amusement, but at least Mamet knows how to play the game when he has your attention.

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=8820&reviewer=385
originally posted: 10/10/04 05:15:27
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User Comments

3/04/21 morris campbell good flick the best i remember it's been awhile 4 stars
2/16/10 jreneski interesting remake of Helen of Troy complete with a Trojan Horse 4 stars
3/22/08 david good plot, horrible acting 2 stars
5/19/07 R.W. Welch Murky in spots, but a watchable political thriller. 4 stars
11/27/05 kemperman watchable but flawed 3 stars
10/25/05 Katie Evridge Pointless 1 stars
10/10/05 Agent Sands Not nearly as good as "Heist," but I love a shady, sinister protagonist. 4 stars
9/19/05 ERIC ROBERT WILKINSON Mamet makes a film unlike any of his other work, and brimming with greatness! 4 stars
7/03/05 Ice Queen engaging 5 stars
4/18/05 Indrid Cold That Mamet dialogue; half the time you don't know what they're talking about. 4 stars
4/07/05 Landshark If you have any brains, bring em, you'll need em. 5 stars
2/11/05 Joe Uninteresting characters, plot makes no sense 1 stars
1/21/05 Tjalda L. Schiel Finally Val Kilmer looks good. Mamet makes it all happen. 5 stars
1/04/05 Dave Chen Great! Must see! 5 stars
7/31/04 Uncle Phucker Slow and exciting simultaneously. The best film of the year so far. 5 stars
7/11/04 Dann Carter intriguing,Val Kilmer is good as usual,definitely worth a look! 4 stars
7/10/04 maureen baker wow- a great film with all sorts of betrayal, suspense and mayhem. Incredible acting! 5 stars
7/08/04 David C Good story, not predicatble, Mamet style makes it work. Kilmer in a good movie for a change 5 stars
7/03/04 rocky@volcanomail.com Brilliant story arc unfolds with twists and turns and pulls you along. Kilmer is a badass. 5 stars
6/27/04 Bill K Ridiculous plot (holes everywhere). Nobody wears kevlar. Stupid conspiracy idea. 1 stars
4/23/04 We ARE in World War III. That's a FACT! DAMN hollywood for trashing that truth in the mouth of one of its piddling villains! 1 stars
4/23/04 Jenny Tullwartz None of characters likeable, plot often ioncomprensibly brutal, geography wrong 1 stars
3/29/04 NoRefill Good movie. Typical Mamet dialogue, twists, acting. Entertaining story, a little overdone. 4 stars
3/27/04 S. Ritter Keeps you talking -- and think -- long after you have left the theatre. 5 stars
3/26/04 George Hart In a class by itself in this genre, fantastic 5 stars
3/21/04 Manning Good plot, good directing, definately worth seeing 5 stars
3/20/04 True Grit This film kicked ass. Finally Mamet has learned to use his style entertainly. 5 stars
3/15/04 Mike R. Good plot, not great acting/char dev. 3 stars
3/14/04 Laurie DeLeve Good guys a little too good, bad guys are drawn just a little too bad. 4 stars
3/12/04 V. Smith Solid, but 'art house,' espionage thriller. 4 stars
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  12-Mar-2004 (R)
  DVD: 15-Jun-2004



Directed by
  David Mamet

Written by
  David Mamet

  Val Kilmer
  Derek Luke
  William H. Macy
  Kristen Bell
  Alexandra Kerry
  Johnny Messner

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