The Austin Chronicle


Rated R, 107 min. Directed by David Mamet. Starring Val Kilmer, Derek Luke, William H. Macy, Ed O’Neill, Tia Texada.

REVIEWED By Marjorie Baumgarten, Fri., March 12, 2004

Spartan is a crackling good David Mamet movie, one of his by-now almost patented caper dramas, although this time set within the world of the military and political dirty tricks. As usual, the dialogue is distinctly Mamet (although the four-letter words in this movie seem to be turned down a notch or three). But the inclusion of the more laconically inclined actor Val Kilmer in the film’s lead decompresses much of Mamet’s typically rat-a-tat clip and intensity – in a good way. Kilmer’s Robert Scott is a believable character, a career Marine who is highly respected by his peers and employers yet keeps his own counsel. Scott refers to himself as a "worker bee" and not "a thinker or planner." We witness how rapidly and dependably he shifts into action the second duty calls and, furthermore, uses whatever means necessary to accomplish his mission. At the beginning of the film, just as he’s going off-duty from a training drill with a special ops unit, he’s called into service on a kidnapping case. It’s a good 20 minutes or so before it’s disclosed to the viewer that the victim is the U.S. president’s daughter, who is a college student in Boston. While on the case, along with new recruit Curtis (Luke), the two stumble into a white-slavery ring. But then things get really complicated and are not (big surprise) what they seem. Political objectives hold sway, and Scott soon has to decide whether to act of his own volition. The less said here about the plot’s twists and turns the better. However, it should be noted that these military and shadowy political milieus prove to be perfect settings for another of Mamet’s incisive investigations of the male group psyche. The performances are all top-notch, and the camerawork seems a bit more sophisticated than in Mamet’s previous eight writer-director efforts (this even though Spartan was shot by Mamet’s frequent collaborator Juan Ruiz Anchía). Moreover, there is no Rebecca Pidgeon in this movie, a definite plus for many loyal Mamet watchers. A political thriller with topical currency, Spartan delivers the goods.

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