Leaving the theatre after watching Wag the Dog, I had the distinct feeling that it was my own stupidity that had been made fun of for the past hour and a half. Sure, it was funny, but there was no mistaking it . . . that was me they were making fun of up there.|
Wag the Dog, a political satire/comedy directed by Barry Levinson is about the manipulation of the media by politics, and it leaves the viewer wondering just how much news is actually news and how much is a pleasant diversion so 'we' (the ignorant masses) will overlook the 'real story'?
The President of the United States is accused of sexual misconduct (sound familiar?) with a mere eleven days to go before an election. With his opponent all set to pounce on these allegations, political spin doctor Conrad Brean (Robert DeNiro) is called upon to repair the damage and restore the President to his pre-scandal popularity.
Realizing the magnitude of his task, Brean enlists the help of an old friend, flamboyant movie producer Stanley Motss (Dustin Hoffman). Motss' extravagant imagination proves to be just what the President needs.
The solution? In the same humorous vein of Canadian Bacon, a phony "war" with Albania is formulated.
Motss and Brean set about creating all the trappings of a war - that is, without any actual "war" taking place (Motss notes that while America has "gone to war" numerous times, it hasn't "declared war" since World War II). Soon a believable enemy is established and a cause is born. The President and his naughty deeds are yesterday's news.|
To be certain, Wag the Dog is a little far-fetched at some points. It's hard to believe that any such elaborate media hoax could be perpetrated in today's sophisticated technological society. Certainly CNN, or the BBC, or even CBC News, would expose the sham within hours. Similarly, a scandal with the magnitude of sexual misconduct in the White House would not take a back seat to any issue.
But that is not the point of Wag the Dog. Believable or not, the film serves as a scathing indictment of the mass media, and the gullible public, sheep that they are, hops on whatever bandwagon that shows up on the six o'clock news. Baaaa.
The funniest moments of the film occur when a wrench is thrown into Motss plans, and an alternate course of action must be taken to continue the diversion.
Regardless of how ridiculous the story becomes, the viewer believes what Levinson and screenwriters Hillary Henkin and David Mamet put forth. |
Usually films involving a Presidential character are centered on the personality of the President. However, the viewer never sees the face of the President throughout the entire movie. Although we see brief shots of his back, and we hear his voice, we never become acquainted with him. Subsequently, we are not allowed to judge him. The film is about the perception of the story, not about the perception of the President.
The whole idea behind Wag the Dog can be summed up in one of the film's memorable exchanges between Motss and Brean. Motss claims that the President should be nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize for ending the war. When Brean reminds him that there was never a war in the first place, Motss exclaims "well, all the greater accomplishment."
Wag the Dog is rare cinematic treat: a stylish, witty story that pokes fun at the very people shelling out $8 to watch it.
They're making fun of us, but it works. And with the Oscar-winning pedigree of Levinson, DeNiro and Hoffman, the film should receive its due when the Oscars are doled out later this year.