Wag the Dog
|Wag the Dog|
Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Barry Levinson|
|Produced by||Barry Levinson
Robert De Niro
|Screenplay by||Hilary Henkin
|Based on||American Hero
by Larry Beinhart
Robert De Niro
|Music by||Mark Knopfler|
|Editing by||Stu Linder|
|Distributed by||New Line Cinema|
|Running time||97 minutes|
Wag the Dog is a 1997 black comedy film produced and directed by Barry Levinson. The screenplay by Hilary Henkin and David Mamet was loosely adapted from Larry Beinhart's novel American Hero. The film stars Dustin Hoffman and Robert De Niro, with Anne Heche, Denis Leary, and William H. Macy in supporting roles.
Just days before a presidential election, a Washington, D.C. spin doctor (De Niro), distracts the electorate from a sex scandal by hiring a Hollywood film producer (Hoffman) to construct a fake war with Albania.
The President of the United States is caught making advances on an underage "Firefly Girl" less than two weeks before Election Day. Conrad Brean (De Niro), a top-notch spin-doctor, is brought in to try to take the public attention away from the scandal. He decides to construct a fake war with Albania, hoping the media will concentrate on this instead. In order to come up with his 'war', he contacts Hollywood producer Stanley Motss (Hoffman), who brings in a series of specialists who help construct a theme song, build up interest, and fake some footage of an orphan in Albania.
The plan's setbacks, including an error that led to seizing a criminally insane Army prison convict (Harrelson) to be their "hero" who was "shot down behind enemy lines", do not disturb Motss, who repeatedly claims "this is nothing" while comparing the situation to past movie-making catastrophes he averted. In the end, with the president re-elected, everything seems fine until Motss finds out from the news outlets that the media are crediting the president's win to his tired campaign slogan of "Don't change horses in mid stream" rather than Motss's hard work. Motss announces that he will call the media to "set them straight", despite Brean's warning that he is "playing with his life". When Motss refuses to back down, Brean reluctantly has him killed and makes it look as if he had a heart attack. A news report about a violent incident in Albania is shown, but it is ambiguous whether this is a true event or simply a continuation of the fictional war.
Why does the dog wag its tail?
Because the dog is smarter than the tail.
If the tail were smarter, it would wag the dog.
Motss and Evans
Hoffman's character is said to have been based directly upon famed producer Robert Evans. Similarities have been noted between the character and Evans' work habits, mannerisms, quirks, clothing style, hairstyle, and large, square-framed eyeglasses; in fact, the real Evans is said to have joked, "I'm magnificent in this film." Hoffman has never discussed any inspiration Evans may have provided for the role, and claims on the commentary track for the film's DVD release that much of Motss' characterization was based on his own father, Harry Hoffman, a former prop manager for Columbia Pictures.
The award of writing credits on the film became controversial at the time, due to objections by Barry Levinson. Given the close relationship between Levinson and David Mamet, who had been hired to rewrite Hilary Henkin's screenplay (loosely adapted from the novel American Hero by Larry Beinhart) after Levinson became attached as director, New Line Cinema originally asked that Mamet be given sole screenplay credit; but the Writers Guild of America intervened on Henkin's behalf to assure that Henkin received first-position shared screenplay credit, finding that as the original screenwriter Henkin had created the screenplay's structure as well as much of the screen story and dialogue. Levinson thereafter threatened to (but did not) quit the Guild, claiming that Mamet had written all of the dialogue as well as creating the characters of Motss and Schumann, and had originated most of the scenes set in Hollywood and all of the scenes set in Nashville. Levinson attributed the numerous similarities between Henkin's original version and the eventual shooting script to Henkin and Mamet working from the same novel, but the WGA disagreed in its credit arbitration ruling.
The film featured many songs created for the fictitious campaign waged by the protagonists: "Good Old Shoe", "The American Dream" and "The Men of the 303" are but salient examples. None of these pieces made it onto the soundtrack, which was released on CD: it featured only the title track, by British guitarist/vocalist Mark Knopfler, and seven of Knopfler's instrumentals.
Wag the Dog received very positive reviews, with 85% of the critics polled by Rotten Tomatoes giving it favorable reviews. At the website Metacritic, which employs a normalized rating system, the film earned a favorable rating of 73/100 based on 22 reviews by mainstream critics. Roger Ebert awarded the film four out of four stars and wrote in his review for the Chicago Sun-Times, "The movie is a satire that contains just enough realistic ballast to be teasingly plausible; like Dr. Strangelove, it makes you laugh, and then it makes you wonder."
Awards and honors
The film was nominated for two Academy Awards: Dustin Hoffman for the Academy Award for Best Actor and Hilary Henkin and David Mamet for Best Adapted Screenplay. The film was also entered into the 48th Berlin International Film Festival where it won the Silver Bear – Special Jury Prize.
American Film Institute recognition
- AFI's 100 Years...100 Laughs – Nominated
- AFI's 100 Years...100 Movie Quotes:
- "This is nothing!" – Nominated
- Astroturfing, a controversial public relations practice depicted in the film
- Canadian Bacon and Wrong Is Right, films about an American war started for similar reasons
- "Business info" on IMDb
- Turan, Kenneth (December 24, 1997). "'Wag the Dog' Is a Comedy With Some Real Bite to It". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved May 23, 2013. "A gloriously cyncial black comedy that functions as a wicked smart satire on the interlocking world of politics and show business..."
- "Wag the Dog Back In Spotlight". CNN. August 20, 1998. Retrieved May 23, 2013.
- "Idiom: wag the dog". UsingEnglish.com. Retrieved May 22, 2011.
- "Tiger Plays It Cool Under Big-cat Pressure". Orlando Sentinel. April 5, 1998. Retrieved April 5,2013.
- "Business solutions from". AllBusiness.com. Retrieved June 1, 2011.
- Welkos, Robert W. (May 11, 1998). "Giving Credit Where It's Due - Los Angeles Times". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 13 November 2010.
- "Woof and Warp of "Dog" Screen Credit". E! Online. December 23, 1997. Retrieved June 1, 2011.
- Wag The Dog, Rotten Tomatoes, retrieved December 26, 2011
- Wag The Dog, Metacritic, retrieved December 26, 2011
- Roger Ebert (January 2, 1998). "Wag The Dog". Chicago Sun-Times. Retrieved 2011-12-26.
- "Awards" on IMDB.com
- "Berlinale: 1998 Prize Winners". berlinale.de. Retrieved 2012-01-23.
- AFI's 100 Years...100 Laughs Nominees
- AFI's 100 Years...100 Movie Quotes Nominees
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