Val Kilmer's latest box office fumble may be his best film since 1996's The Ghost and the Darkness, as he stars as a devoted secret agent who sets out to uncover the truth about the kidnapping of the President's daughter.
David Mamet, who has become known for his edgy, twisty plots in such low-scale films as Heist (Gene Hackman) and The Spanish Prisoner (Steve Martin), directs and writes Spartan, a very methodical and plot-driven film that breathes new life into that of darker spy thrillers. It is a movie that focuses much less on the characters than on the situation at hand, and the result is a fast-paced and exciting film.
It seems as though the films that delve deep into a character's psyche are always considered the best, and perhaps that is usually the case. Now and then, however, it is nice to see a film depart from that style and prove that a story can still be smart and realistic without diluting the plot with character flaws. If that sounds appealing to you, Spartan may be your movie.
Specifically, Spartan follows Scott (Kilmer) as he learns that the President's daughter has apparently been kidnapped. The CIA - or whoever is running the investigation - is quick to pull in those who've seen her last: her bodyguard, her boyfriend and her professor. Scott wastes no time getting to the point, and he shows that he will do just about anything to get his way - as the plot unfolds, he reiterates that point several times. He is a man on a mission, and he will do absolutely everything in his power to find the girl. What he uncovers, though, will even shock him...
Kilmer is not especially great in the movie; in fact, much of the dialogue in Mamet's screenplay seems a bit stale. On the other hand, I liked Kilmer's casualness at times; nevertheless, it is sometimes hard to connect with him as he seems to say everything so matter-of-factly. The supporting cast is equally decent, no one standing out from the rest except for William H. Macy, who always shines. Just don't expect too many of the supporting members to survive to the end of the film.
I was hoping for a few more twists in the movie - the film does throw one "major" one, but it is pretty easy to guess assuming that you know what the movie is about (or if you have seen the previews). Regardless, the plot moves along at bullet pace and never disappoints. A little more of a conclusion would have been nice, though; Spartan ends rather suddenly without the expected results.
Spartan is a smart little film that never tries to be too much, and it is probably Mamet's best movie to date. A few more plot twists would have been nice, but it is still an effective thriller.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.
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