Saturday, September 12, 2009

"Wag the Dog" (1997) - Movie Review

Apart from being a satire to be entertained, “Wag the Dog” never overdoses the cinematic element in it as its own film because the actual sappiness of the media game the players behind the campaign of this presidential election does is more cheesy and corny. There is Mark Knopfler’s score oddly used which does not boast the craziness on the story but carries that it is a daily life, rotten work and pure success in making it happen. This is what Conrad Brean (Robert De Niro) does with the right man for the job, producer Stanley Motss (Dustin Hoffman).

The fix it all man Conrad arrives to the underground to the underground in the White House. With two weeks before election and a campaign ad which is nothing but a horrible lousy work, there is a sex scandal on the current president running for second term. Conrad gets to the act, fast and not lethal. He is confident but not arrogant. He gets the ball rolling and buys time to get to the Hollywood produced Motss, who can believe what is been asked but still wants a confirmation. There is a press conference in the White House televised live on the screen when Motss asks Conrad “How close are you to this?” and Conrad replies, “What do you want the kid to say?” and he makes a phone call. And the man behind the podium says what Motss requested. This is real.

Made in 1997 and seeing it now “Wag the Dog” wrote the script of the future. In the far and outreached world, people rely on the information tunneled, morphed and contaminated through the cables. The news media is a business run on manipulating fear than truth. With that on the ropes, there is reporters, journalists on the edge to get the news that would turn the world and their career around. All you need is to feed them the information you want it to be. And that is exactly Conrad and Motss do with nothing short of success.

They are hindered by the unforeseen happenings but they spin it around to make it even more sensational than they anticipated. If the scandal arises, start a war. If the war is resolved by the opponent by making a deal with the CIA, then put a man behind enemy lines. Add the right song and cheesy drama to the scenario and the people rhyme the name of the catchy phrases, great images and memorabilia for their kids and themselves. A tiny bit of patriotism goes a long way.

The 2008 presidential race which I closely followed tells it all. The media wave is where the people fall. You do not need to stand for anything but to tell it aloud, tell it blaring and wear it in good suit and appearance. The outcome is futile hence at least get their time’s worth of saucy entertainment is the people’s perspective on this so called democratic process. “Wag the Dog” in often ways is a sad film with characters having no trouble at all in doing these things. Motss enjoys it as any one would. This is exciting on the ability to shift billions of people into what he wants them to think. He never gives up.

And in Robert De Niro and Dustin Hoffman there are not two actors but two characters passionate about the job however unethical and wrong it is. Watching them together is not a phenomenon or expectation but the art of honestly staying in the character acknowledging the other. De Niro’s Conrad relies on hand movements, facial discomfort and the occasional success laugh. He controls it and keeps it in leash because he has to. Hoffman’s Motss knows the deal but always tries to see whether he can get a pass to claim the credit for this production. There is no Oscars for producer but the producers get the Best Film award. Motss constantly speaks, repeats sentences in order to punctuate his feeling and apprehension or liking towards the happenings due to his set up of the stage and actors.

“Wag the Dog” is no doubt a funny film but mocks at the people and the process of this political arena. The media buying anything and everything and the people buying it. Everything is shift in the percentage of the support, to sustain the time till the election is over. This is smoothest crooked operation in the people’s choice of their leaders. True that it is Conrad and Motss doing what they do best but they are able to put it real because of the current state of the information technology where every one has a say however skewed and incorrect it is. “Wag the Dog” is more than a satire, comedy and brilliant acting, it is a film reflecting the image of the system and how broken and distorted it is.

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