In the second in our series excavating some undiscovered cinematic gems from the tar pits of obscurity we look at David Mamet’s 2004 spy thriller.
When a senior government official’s teenage daughter is kidnapped from underneath the noses of her Secret Service detail, Val Kilmer’s Special Forces’ agent is brought in to get her back at any cost. However, when she is found to have drowned, along with one of her school teachers, the investigation takes a sinister turn.
As is the norm with David Mamet’s work, the script is tightly wound - no word is out of place, every phrase delicately balanced with rhythm, nuance and meaning. Yet with this film he has gone one step further - every unnecessary piece of plot exposition and character history has also been taken out, leaving nothing but the most streamlined of stories.
As a side note, quite a few films could benefit from this approach - Speed II would have had a running time in the seconds and Pearl Harbo(u)r could have had Ben Affleck removed completely, both dramatic improvements in my book.
But I digress. What this means is that, a bit like Christopher Nolan’s Memento, it takes some effort on the part of the viewer to keep abreast of everything that is going on.
The action sequences are coldly realistic - there are no white-vested heroes dragging his girl and his best buddy to safety through a hail of gunfire, while simultaneously destroying 10 city blocks with a dry wit and a rocket launcher fired with his teeth. Think more Kurosawa, less Cameron.
The payoff is elegantly low-key and the performances, especially Kilmer and William H Macy, show Mamet’s stage sensibilities can work compellingly on film.
And is there a message buried within the labyrinthine plot? It could be that the media is as responsible for driving the news as it is for reporting it. Or that one man can make a difference? Or possibly something about American foreign policy, I don’t know.
However, if you want a thriller that is the antithesis of dumbed-down couch-potato fodder, then Spartan will certainly provide your grey cells with the workout they deserve.