SPARTAN (2004)

Written & Directed By: David Mamet
Cinematography By: Juan Ruiz Anchia
Editor: Barbara Tulliver

Cast: Val Kilmer, Derek Luke, Kristen Bell, Tia Texada, Stephen Culp, Clark Gregg, Ed O’Neill, Aaron Stanford, Geoff Pierson, William H. Macy, Said Taghmaoui, Zosia Mamet

Maverick Ranger Scott, known for ruthless, unorthodox methods but good results, is called in to help the secret service after Washington big whig’s brat daughter is abducted while studying at Harvard. Scott quickly realizes the protection detail’s prime suspect, her boyfriend Michael Blake, is innocent and dumped her for being a drug-addicted slut. Next, he traces her to a bordello, only to realize the captors didn’t realize who she is but simply recruited her for the Middle Eastern white slavery market, and are likely to dispose of her rather than confront her father. But instead of the support expected in such a high-profile case, Scott gets orders to work in secret before the press catches on, and even finds his quest sabotaged.

This is a tight and taut film. Like a clock with airtight precision. It is also a strange film that has a rhythm and beat all its own.

It’s a top-notch thriller with a good story that plays small and close to the chest rather than a grand conspiracy blockbuster, but when you think you have it figured out. A twist you honestly didn’t see comes, then another one, then another one.

Truthfully I wouldn’t expect any less from playwright-writer-director David Mamet. Though I must say that while this is good. it is one of his lesser works. Which considering the excellent standing of his previous films isn’t bad.

His films specialize in sleight of hand movies. These days though he seems to take stories where you know and subvert them so you care more about the characters, their rapid-fire dialogue, and line delivery which have hidden meanings. Characters’ faces rarely betray emotion but do say so much with simple gestures and tone.

This film is noteworthy for a few reasons. It’s one of the closest Mamet will ever get to mainstream entertainment blockbuster type. Which is the direction. he has a top-notch low-key cast. Val Kilmer is the lead for one of the few times that a film he appears in makes it to the big screen. He really doesn’t get enough credit for how good an actor he is.

The film moves at a slow pace which adds to the slow burn of scenes, it is ultimately rewarding and gives the film more nuance. As it fleshes out characters. Which in other films would be strictly one-note. Mamet shows the procedures and what motivates their actions and reactions. So that you don’t get too far ahead of the lead, but doesn’t not leave you behind him in some scenes.

This film has action but is low on it. A fight scene for instance is started, but the camera stays on the face of Val Kilmer. while he watches it instead of on the actual action. So you can use your imagination to fill in the blanks while hearing it. Then you see the aftermath of the fight.

David Mamet performed rewrites during production using nothing more than a typewriter on a cardboard box between takes.

Except for a single day on a soundstage, the film was shot exclusively at practical locations.

Producer Art Linson and David Mamet were having lunch when Linson informed Mamet that he could not get anything more than a no-frills budget for the movie. Val Kilmer was literally at the next table. Linson knew Kilmer and asked him to come over, and they talked about the production. Kilmer was so impressed with the story and Mamet’s vision that he agreed to the role of giving a significant discount to facilitate Franchise Pictures giving a green-light to the production.

The film might be an acquired taste as I went to this film with one of my constant film companions my female cousin who was bored and really didn’t like the film. While I was quite captivated throughout

I don’t want to spoil too much, that would spoil the experience of seeing it with open eyes. Which I believe is where much of the film’s enjoyment lies.

One of the problems, with the film, is that one character does who is very close to the lead. When it happens he shows no emotions, but later when a character dies who the lead barely knows he tears up like a baby, delayed reaction as the person was hardly innocent. It feels out of place.

David Mamet incorporated a number of real-life experiences from various U.S. special forces members for the production, including Eric L. Haney who had served in highly classified operations during his 20-year military career. Haney’s experience included front-line combat units as a combat infantryman, as an Army Ranger, and as a founding operator within the elite Delta Force under Colonel Charlie Beckwith.

These experiences helped Haney effectively serve as a technical advisor, weapons expert, and actor’s mentor to Val Kilmer, ensuring that Kilmer reflected an accurate depiction of a special forces operative in every capacity. Haney retired as a highly decorated Sergeant Major, and his documented experience also includes security surveys, metro SWAT team arms training, oil company guard force management, executive protection, and the recovery of American children kidnapped and taken overseas.

The film never comes completely alive for all the thrills stays sedate and calm. While the size of production staying small and intimate brings a certain reality to the conspiracy it also feels like a letdown as the size of the story seems more on The scale of epic Or at least bigger proportions.

This is Mamet keeping his style for a major release that offers him a bigger palate. It actually reminds me of the minimalist style of Steven Soderbergh. I am surprised they never collaborated on a project.

 Grade: B

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