Val Kilmer as Robert Scott
Derek Luke as Curtis
William H. Macy as Stoddard
Ed O’Neill as Burch
Kristen Bell as Laura Newton
Tia Texada as Jackie Black
Aaron Stanford as Michael Blake
Lauren Bowles as Entertainment Reporter
Andrew Davoli as Jerry Zimmer
Stephen Greif as Businessman
Kick Gurry as Jones
Moshe Ivgy as Avi
Bob Jennings as Grace’s aid
Shireen Kadivar as Arab Woman
Chris LaCentra as Corporal Sattler
Johnny Messner as Agent Grace
Ann Morgan as Young Woman
Natalia Nogulich as Nadya Tellich
Virginia Pereira as Tracey
Former Marine Robert Scott (Kilmer) is hired by a government task force to find the missing daughter of a high-ranking political figure. Paired with a naïve rookie (Derek Luke), the two of them track the girl through a complex maze to a white slavery ring, but their attempts to rescue her and bring her back safely are hindered by politicos who don’t seem to want her found.
For his ninth film as a director, prolific screenwriter David Mamet takes the political thriller route, taking a routine story about a missing person/kidnapping and creating a complex, layered story about political conspiracy and double-dealings. The premise is intriguing, as is the central character, an anti-hero trying to do the right thing using the most direct approach, which might not always be the best one.
Unfortunately, the execution leaves a lot to be desired. The majority of the movie looks and feels like something we’ve seen on Law and Order: SVU, 24 or any other hour-long television drama, as if Mamet took elements and characters from all of these shows and tried to create something new and different. Although his motivations at trying to uncover government wrong-doings is noble enough, it just doesn’t work.
Spartan‘s plot itself is its biggest weakness. It is filled with so many plot holes and ridiculous twists that come from out of leftfield, and as odd as some of them are, most of them are predictable to anyone familiar with the political thriller genre. As is always the case, no one should be trusted and nothing should be believed, so those “twists” are telegraphed by years of similar storytelling.
Usually, Mamet’s sharp dialogue would make up for any problems with the plot, but gone are most of Mamet’s trademark quips, that have made so many of his other movies so quotable. Any laughs are at the movie rather than with it, because in a number of scenes, you wonder what Mamet was thinking. For every clever or interesting thing that Mamet throws into the mix-and we’re talking about only two or three things here-there are long stretches of ridiculous situations. Every new character that Agent Scott encounters is even more clichéd than the previous one, and few of them are even remotely likeable. By the fifth or sixth time, someone asks “Where’s the girl?”, the movie’s catchphrase apparently, you wish the story would move onto something more interesting than a lame kidnapping premise that has been used too many times before. When it finally does, you just don’t care anymore.
Any other director would have cut out some of the extraneous characters and plots twists, or made an attempt to flesh out and develop some of the supporting cast, as they pop in and out of Agent Scott’s search without anything to define them or make them seem important to the story. Mamet seems so in love with his own words and script that he overlooks what would have been obvious problems to anyone else.
One of the few saving graces of this mess is Kilmer himself, who gives a great performance as the complex and multi-layered Agent Scott. This is clearly Kilmer’s movie, and he does a great job rising above the mundane, as he is able to somehow recite some of the most ridiculous lines with a straight face. (Not quite sure why he resorts to calling people “baby” at times; that was rather weird.)
At first, his character is as dislikeable as the others, due to the brutally violent way he handles situations. It’s hard to watch, but it helps to show how his character will stop at nothing to complete his mission with no compunctions towards hurting or killing anyone who stands in his way. Kilmer and Mamet create an intriguing anti-hero, much like Ray Liotta’s bad detective in Narc, but the outlandish scenarios he gets into, like the “characters” Scott creates to get information, takes away from the gravity of the crisis he is hired to resolve.
Derek Luke also does a decent job with a character that offers an interesting counterpoint to Kilmer’s, but like too many of the other characters in this movie, he is sorely misused and then quickly discarded. Tia Texada’s female rookie seems even more useless. When Mamet regulars William H. Macy and Ed O’Neill show up as two secret service agents sent in to clean up the mess, you expect things to pick up and get better. Sadly, this is not to be. Macy’s role in the first three quarters of the movie is minimal at best, as he stands around with almost no lines. Because of this, his emergence in the last act as a non-sympathetic character makes little sense and the character does not suit him at all.
The rest of the cast are fairly awful method actors whose performances drag the movie down and prevent any sort of credibility or realism. It’s a credit to Kilmer’s talent as an actor that he’s able to keep some of the scenes together.
To try to add realism to the story Mamet uses mostly real locations, such as air hangers and universities, but the ludicrous situations that take place there, destroy the desired effect. On the technical side, the movie is so poorly lit and filmed, that it rarely looks much better than a film school project. The attempts at action sequences are so poorly choreographed that they fail to add any excitement or tension.
The Bottom Line:
Spartan is an insanely ridiculous and implausible political thriller, with way too many characters and twists that are as embarrassingly predictable as they are unbelievable. The poor quality of the storytelling and most of the acting does not help matters, making for a painfully unentertaining experience. If anyone else directed this film, it could easily be brushed off as Hollywood tripe, but considering that Mamet has been making movies for the last eight years, the poor quality of this movie is surprising and utterly tragic. We can only hope that he realizes this movie didn’t work and that he returns to familiar, and preferably lighter, territory for his next movie.