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Wag the Dog (1997)

Election day is closing in on a fictitious President of the United States and the campaign is going to need a miracle of political manipulation to get him re-elected.

Time to call in Mr. Fix-It.

deniro wag dog

A bearded Robert DeNiro takes charge of a team of a team of presidential press agents headed by Anne Heche. Their number one problem is that news is about to break that the President may be implicated in a sex scandal (Paging Bill Clinton to the Oval Office). A media distraction is needed to put the public’s focus on something more All-American. How about another war that needs to be won?

With a press leak here and there it seems that DeNiro has shifted the focus to a U.S. conflict with Albania. It’s far enough away and as he points out to Heche, “Who trusts Albania?” Now all he needs is some authentic looking news footage to create the scope of a military clash.

wag the dog

“I’m in show business. Why come to me?” says Hollywood producer Dustin Hoffman. Deniro’s answer…… “War is show business.” These two are about to embark on a crazy campaign trail in this black comedy aimed at the lies and mistruths fed to the public through the media.

Hoffman calls in his support team of Andrea Martin, Denis Leary and Willie Nelson. Nelson is the expert at coming up with folk songs that resonate with a political purpose.

Everything that DeNiro and Hoffman are doing is top secret. This includes hiring a young actress to flee a village bombing while holding her kitty cat. No this isn’t available for your resume they tell a young Kirsten Dunst.

wag dog

With each media victory comes another set back. Craig T. Nelson is the opposing candidate whose own advertising campaign is creating obstacles. The war in Albania is over he declares publicly making it a truth in the eyes of the population. If it’s in the media it must be so.

How about the soldier left behind?

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The lies just get deeper as DeNiro and Hoffman use a P.O.W. story to get back on top of the ratings game. Using a Willie Nelson folk song, this is a hilarious segment of the film showing how a population can be easily had featuring Woody Harrelson as “old shoe” the lost soldier.

I enjoyed this feature back when it came out and found it holds up wonderfully today. My outlook hasn’t changed much in today’s world making the plot still topical.

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Beneath the comedy there is an underlying fear of just what DeNiro might be capable of as a mysterious government figure and the amount of power he possesses.

Hoffman is a lot of fun as the Hollywood producer who yearns for the credit of his achievements both past and present. He attacks the problem at hand with a zest and drive to keep ahead of Nelson’s campaign. He looks at everything that has come before him as shoddy and phony driving him to create better commercials and leaked news footage. It’s amusing to see him compare each bump in the road to some set back he had while making a feature film. “This is nothing…… Try a ten a.m. script meeting, coked to the gills, no sleep and you haven’t even read the treatment. ”

“Someday when we tell this story.”

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Also turning up are the likes of William H. Macy, John Michael Higgins and James Belushi under the direction of Barry Levinson. Joining Willie in the musical department are Merle Haggard and Pops Staples while Dire Straits member Mark Knopfler gets the music credit. The screenplay nod goes to David Mamet and Hilary Henkin.

Well worth a look for the foul play that goes on among those that govern us. Sure it’s a dark comedy but you have to wonder just how often we have been fed stories like those that DeNiro puts across in this twisted take on what goes on behind the scenes in the careers of our elected officials.

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