David Mamet, one of the foremost playwrights of our era, as well
as the man responsible for weaving such unyielding stories as
“Glengarry Glen Ross” and “Wag the Dog,”
continues a remarkable career with his latest effort,
“Spartan,” a tense political thriller.

Ryan Nowak
Personally, I like “Duck Hunt” more. (Courtesy of Warner Bros.)

Val Kilmer stars as the mysterious mentor, Scott, a lone-wolf
U.S. agent who is assigned to help retrieve the fashion-savvy
kidnapped daughter of the president before the news hits the press.
Derek Luke (“Antwone Fisher”) fills the protege role as
the rookie agent, Curtis, who tags along for a bit of on-the-job
training, as they search for the First Daughter.

Never hindered by those pesky Miranda rights, Luke and Kilmer
know no obstacles as they doggedly pursue their mission. And like
Mamet’s other stories, things don’t go quite as they
should, nor are they as they seem as the twists and turns
begin.

Minus the fat of the inconsequential opening sequence, the film
has a minimalist directional quality that keeps the narrative lean
and moving. The lighting is natural, the sets are bare-bones and no
more information is given than needed.

Although “Spartan” has the necessary elements of an
action-espionage film — namely violence and clandestine G-men
— this is not a movie the focuses on pretty explosions or
verbose characters. Instead, sub-plots, the unsaid and the
peripheral matter.

There is a single-minded urgency to the mission, captured well
by Val Kilmer. Portraying the infallible, dark anti-hero with just
a few speckles of compassion left is always a delicate line to
tread, but Kilmer walks it nimbly.

The film’s weakness comes not from the actors, but from
Mamet himself. The dialogue is leaden in places and takes on a bit
more weight than needed. Spartan has the heft of a film noir
without the balance to make the emotional aspects believable. Tia
Texada (“Third Watch”) begs for more time, and a larger
role would have helped flesh out Kilmer’s character more.

Always political and relevant, Mamet molds a tense story that
one cannot help imagining taking place in today’s political
landscape. Engaging and focused, this film will please Mamet fans
as well as anyone else who ventures forth for some intelligent
action.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars.

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