97 Min | Comedy – Drama | November 1997
IMDB Rating: 7.1
Director: Wag the Dog
Starring: Dustin Hoffman, Robert De Niro, Anne Heche
Wag the Dog Review: It’s fascinating how the September 11th attacks out-dated everything, making the first Gulf War as far in memories as the Vietnam one. People are less to blame than the media-centric system that knew how to deal with the public emotion, and the key thing is that emotion has a short-term memory. George W. Bush could get away with the second Gulf War on the basis of fallacious arguments just by exploiting the September 11 trauma, and any attempt to question his choices could immediately lead to anti-patriotic accusations. And this emotional exploitation is the basis of Barry Levinson’s “Wag the Dog”, a hilarious satire in the same vein of sharpness than such masterpieces as “Network” or “Dr. Strangelove”, and as prophetic. In August 1998, Bill Clinton confessed of having had inappropriate conduct with Monica Lewinsky, a few days later, terrorist strongholds were bombed in Africa in response to the attack of the American Embassy in Tanzania.
“Wag the Dog” starts with a crisis, the President has been caught with an underage girl and his opponents prepared an accusing videotape clip using ‘Thank Heaven for Little Girls’ as musical background, 11 days before the election, if the President’s men, lead by a woman, Winifred Ames (Anne Heche) don’t come up with an idea and quick, the President is screwed, and his lame “We don’t change horses in midstream” campaign won’t help. They call Conrad Brean, a spin-doctor; played by Robert De Niro. He comes up with the most likely idea to distract the audience from a scandal: a war, the easiest catalysis of sentimentalism and emotions through sheer patriotism. As long as people would be thirsty for magnificent displays of solidarity and humanity, incarnated by these “We are the World”-like songs, it would be easy to manipulate them. So let’s start with rumors about a B3-bomber, “There’s no B3-bomber”, “Great, even deny its existence”.
The saddest thing about Wag the Dog is that even after watching this, the tail still wags us as we allowed many pseudo wars to happen. So even if it isn’t the first political film to highlight the connection between politics and media-manipulation, it’s the most related to our time. It’s also a remarkably insightful film about the creative process of storytelling and a job passion, Moss is too obsessed by his talent that he’ll never accept the idea of not taking credit from it, while Brean is the straight man who takes everything so normally he reminded me of another expert from a same year’s movie, Tommy Lee Jones in “Men in Black”, except that Brean’s underworld is much scarier. Overall, Wag the Dog is an excellent film.