I am going to be deliberately vague in my plot synopsis of Spartan, as there are enough twists and turns in this film alone for five movies. Giving it away would be nothing short of a crime.
A prominent political figure’s daughter has gone missing. We know it is the President’s daughter, but the screenplay is very shy about that fact for most of the film. Scott (Kilmer), a “lone wolf” U.S. Secret Agent, is recruited to find the girl before the press finds out, and all hell breaks loose. With the help of a newcomer, Curtis (Luke), the two enter a deadly journey where the heart of the scheme may be closer to home than they think.
That’s all I’m going to say about the plot because this is simply a film that must be experienced with as little prior knowledge of it as possible. Unlike many recent political mysteries, this one does not sell out and spell everything out for you.
David Mamet, one of the most respected writers around, has crafted a sensational political live wire that will literally have you guessing until the end. There were several times during the film where I thought that I had it figured out, and was shot down in the very next scene.
The heart of the film is Mamet’s superb screenplay. The man is simply a brilliant writer. In Spartan he has his character’s speaking in a certain military and political lingo, and nowhere does he step aside just to translate it for us. Because of this, Spartan almost plays in real-time, with us, the audience members, and the characters in the film trying to solve the mystery simultaneously.
Val Kilmer turns in his best performance in years as Scott, the no-nonsense officer who will kill without even blinking if it is necessary to stay a step ahead. Kilmer has become a B-actor of sorts since his Top Gun glory days, but this film may very well bring him back into the limelight in Hollywood. He is as strong a presence as I have seen in a long time, and never once during the movie do we doubt his convictions.
The supporting cast is extraordinary, as well. Derek Luke is strong as the newbie military officer, who at times is shocked by Scott’s actions. Ed O’Neill (typecast by most as Married With Children‘s Al Bundy) is the most surprisingly cast of the bunch, and his is strong as Burch, the man who will approve of anything to get the girl back. William H. Macy is great, as usual, in his limited screen time.
Spartan is the kind of movie for those in need of a challenging, well-paced, well-directed, and well-written film. It is great to see a movie that doesn’t insult one’s intelligence, particularly in this genre. Spartan stands for how smart these kinds of movies can be, and also how exciting and fun they can be.
David Mamet continues to bring us incredible films, and Spartan is one of his best. This is one of the best new films of the year, and a clinic for how this genre should be done. Highly recommended for those in need of a challenge.
Studio: Warner Bros. Pictures
Length: 106 Minutes
Rating: R for violence and language.
Theatrical Release: March 12, 2004
Directed by: David Mamet
Written by: David Mamet
Cast: Val Kilmer, Derek Luke, William H. Macy, Tia Texada, Kristen Bell, Ed O’Neill