Directed By: Barry Levinson.
CoverUps.com Rating: 4 UFOs
(March 26, 2007) - It is presumably the late 1990s. In the run up to mid-term Presidential election, The President, who could be Bill Clinton, could be unseated despite his high popularity, because of “sexual misconduct” alleged by a young girl on tour of The White House. Enter spin master Conrad Brean (Robert DeNiro) the “Mr. Fixit” assigned the task of keeping the public’s attention focused anywhere but on the sexual misconduct - at least until the reelection is over in less than two weeks. Brean decides the only thing than can trump a sex scandal is a war – so he creates a fake one against Albania of all countries, and enlists the help of a big shot Hollywood producer, Stanley Motss (Dustin Hoffman), to help in producing a multimedia charade. Together, with the President’s all-purpose staff girl, Winifred Ames (Anne Heche), they create a fake war. The public buys it hook, line and sinker. We have to ask ourselves: is something like this possible? Did something like this actually even happen? Are we, the public, that gullible? All of these questions are raised in Wag The Dog.
We all know, at least we hope that for the most part politics is filled with spin. Perhaps it is the amount of political spin that powers the Earth’s rotation. All Governments are guilty of it, and yes, our own included. In some cynical sense the lack of any credible standing worldwide for our Nation might conceivably lay in the hands of spin masters falling asleep at the wheel rather than the actual intellectual failure of some banal foreign policy. After all, for every country foreign policy, since time immemorial, can be summed up as mere self-interest and nothing more. So, the good guys and the bad guys, in this amoral neutral view of the World, are simply the products of spin marketing and public relations puppet masters. Welcome to Wag The Dog, a very fine film starring Robert DeNiro as enigmatic spin master Conrad Brean and Dustin Hoffman as movie producer mogul Stanley Motss who excel in a world driven on such principles or lack thereof.
The release of this movie, it must be noted, raised scary parallels to real-time history in the making. Virtually unfolding before our eyes, shortly after Wag The Dog was released, the Monica Lewinsky affair, which nearly got President Bill Clinton impeached, was there for our indulgence. Do you recall exactly what happened during the middle of the whole ordeal? Suddenly some missiles were fired at some crazy guy named Osama Bin Laden who at the time was running a training camp for terrorists in Afghanistan. To imply that Clinton redirected the public’s attention by launching missiles to divert people from his sex scandal would be giving poor tribute the 20/20 vision of hindsight and the historical events that took place on 9-11. But, still, it was pretty freaky!
If anything Wag The Dog is an intelligent Cover-up-oriented movie more in the spirit of satire bordering on the real. It portrays to extremes, we hope, of the nature of a true spin master and what a good, well orchestrated public relations media assault can do for anyone if given enough money and manpower. If anything, Wag The Dog underscores the incredible weakness of the mass media exposing its proclivity for whoring itself out to any story that smacks of sensationalism, heroism and patriotism. Although that was then, this is now. President George W. Bush, nearly a decade later, might disagree that such proclivities are doing him any favors.
But, going back to our early position – perhaps Bush’s greatest transgression, in context of a Wag The Dog World, would be he does not have Conrad Bream working for him. True or not, Conrad would say the war in Iraq today is being lost. Why? Because it says so on TV.
The best parts of the movie involve the fake campaign to have a young Kirsten Dunst act like an Albania women escaping rape. She is blue-screened with a bag of Tostitos standing in for a kitten. It was all created in a studio. The next great bit involves Woody Harrelson as Sgt. William Schumann. He is the “Old Shoe” so chosen because of his marketable last name. He was to be the President’s hero celebrity on a successful return from a war that never took place. Paying homage to the old saw that the road to hell is paved with the best intentions, it turns out that Schumann was a psychotic who simply spent time in the “Special Prisons” program and not the “Special Programs” program, from which he was culled Ames. So it goes Schumann is killed and it was all for the better of the American people. Why? The story sold better that way.
This intelligent Cover-Up movie is madcap, but not quite. There is a serious idea at work here and it underscores the film – it is a question that gnaws on us as the movie plausibly brings the implausible to life on TV: How real is it? How much are we really the dupes of complex media assaults and public relations campaigns as portrayed to exaggeration in Wag The Dog? How much to we really care? It is those thoughts that lend heavy CoverUps weight to this otherwise satirical and entertaining film.