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Wag The Dog (DVD) Review
Nominated for two Academy Awards, including one for its screenplay, Wag The Dog turned out to be one of the more interesting films of the 1990s. When the President of the United States faces accusations that threaten to destroy his reelection chances, several of his advisors work with a Hollywood director to concoct a fake war in Albania to serve as a distraction. Released several months before the Clinton-Lewinsky scandal, Wag The Dog foreshadowed events to come as some believe hostilities with Iraq were used to draw attention away from the impeachment proceedings. But regardless of what occurred in real life, Wag The Dog paints a hilarious and clever picture of the endless manipulations political handlers attempt to pull off in the real world. Hopefully, they're never on such a grand scale…
With the president (Michael Belson) embroiled in a breaking sex scandal, two of his top aides - Conrad Brean (Robert De Niro) and Winifred Ames (Anne Heche) - immediately move into damage control mode. Election Day is too close to wait for the scandal to simply pass over and become old news, so Brean comes up with a plan.
Visiting noted Hollywood director Stanley Motss (Dustin Hoffman), Brean pitches an absurd proposal. He wants Motss to create a war for him. In one of the more memorable scenes from the film, Brean and Motss are watching a White House press conference, and at Motss' request, Brean calls the White House and tells the White House Press Secretary word-for-word what to say to the press. The detailed manipulation is only a sign of things to come. Making the decision to create tension between the United States and Albania, the two men conjure up more than just an international crisis.
Along with singer Johnny Dean (Willie Nelson), they create songs to commemorate the non-existent victims and war heroes. They even manufacture a fraudulent war hero, Sergeant William Schumann (Woody Harrelson) - whose sacrifice is acknowledged by throwing shoes into trees and onto power lines. But will Brean and Motss succeed in their deception? Can political aides really conspire to concoct lies big enough to change an election...
Dustin Hoffman received an Academy Award nomination for Best Actor in a Leading Role for his portrayal of Hollywood director Stanley Motss. Hoffman plays the part to perfection, combining bits of humor and eccentricity to create a memorable character. De Niro (who later stars with Hoffman in Meet The Fockers), despite being overshadowed by Hoffman's Oscar nomination, puts in a strong performance as well. It's not quite The Godfather II, but it's a lot better than Analyze This. In addition, Wag The Dog is one of the few films where I believe Anne Heche makes a mark for herself as a serious actress and not just the former companion of Ellen DeGeneres. Overall, the acting and direction for this movie are more than enough to make Stanley Motss proud…
Wag The Dog raises some arguable questions of the true freedom of the American citizenry. America may have freedom of the press, but how do we know what new is true and what news is not? Wag The Dog makes for great satire in respect to a free republic's own vulnerability to propaganda. If the Clinton impeachment proceedings had not been so close to the release of this film, it might well have dropped off the radar. But the Clinton scandal and all the questions surrounding it only served to make Wag The Dog a part of history and a part of the day's political vernacular, and that's why it's a definite must-see film.
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