Monday, September 05, 2005

Movie Review: Spartan

Last weekend, I finally got around to watching David Mamet's Spartan (2004), a stylish thriller that opened to good reviews but sank without a trace before you could blink. First, some rather copious background.

My experience with Mamet films has always been something of a mystery to me. On the face of it, Mamet's artifice-filled dialogue and convoluted plotting ought to have dovetailed perfectly with my love for narrative complexity and preference for form over content. In practice, however, most of Mamet's films -- including House of Games and The Spanish Prisoner, not to mention the considerably inferior Heist -- have left me vaguely disappointed. The problem, I've concluded, is that I am simply unable to suspend disbelief enough to revel in Mamet's narrative twists. Much as I like manipulative plots like that of The Usual Suspects or Fight Club, the fun is in the storytelling process rather than in the surprises themselves. Movies like Heist leave me cold because the twists exist in and of themselves; not only are they too arbitrary to be enjoyable as sleights of hand, but they are also far too inconsequential to provoke thought or shed any new light on the proceedings.

Back to Spartan. The first hour or so of Spartan was a superbly paced, brilliantly shot B-movie, full of delicious dialogue and with an offbeat narrative structure where the audience hurtles through an episodic sequence of events with little by way of exposition to provide context for the events occurring on screen. With strong performances from Val Kilmer and the supporting cast, each scene crackles with intensity as the audience is slowly allowed insight into the logic that glues the episodes together.

Alas! Things begin to unravel somewhat in the last half hour as Mamet starts to fall in love with his elaborate conspiracy theories, and the story peters out into a conventional resolution, redeemed occasionally by some interesting moments of improvisational ingenuity. Despite its failings, Spartan remains a movie worth watching for fans of gritty filmmaking and chewy dialogue.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dude, since you dig good movies, you should watch Crash (not the David Cronenberg one) if you already havent. Quite unusual and nice

9/29/2005 11:10 PM  

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