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7.1/10
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222 user 137 critic

Wag the Dog (1997)

Trailer
0:33 | Trailer
Shortly before an election, a spin-doctor and a Hollywood producer join efforts to fabricate a war in order to cover up a Presidential sex scandal.

Director:

Barry Levinson

Writers:

Larry Beinhart (book), Hilary Henkin (screenplay) | 1 more credit »
Nominated for 2 Oscars. Another 2 wins & 20 nominations. See more awards »

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Photos

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Cast

Cast overview, first billed only:
Dustin Hoffman ... Stanley Motss
Robert De Niro ... Conrad Brean
Anne Heche ... Winifred Ames
Woody Harrelson ... Sgt. William Schumann
Denis Leary ... Fad King
Willie Nelson ... Johnny Dean
Andrea Martin ... Liz Butsky
Michael Belson Michael Belson ... President
Suzanne Cryer ... Amy Cain
John Michael Higgins ... John Levy
Suzie Plakson ... Grace
Kirsten Dunst ... Tracy Lime
Jason Cottle ... A.D.
David Koechner ... Director
Harland Williams ... Pet Wrangler
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Storyline

After being caught in a scandalous situation days before the election, the president does not seem to have much of a chance of being re-elected. One of his advisers contacts a top Hollywood producer in order to manufacture a war in Albania that the president can heroically end, all through mass media. Written by Christy

Plot Summary | Plot Synopsis

Taglines:

A comedy about truth, justice and other special effects. See more »

Genres:

Comedy | Drama

Certificate:

12 | See all certifications »

Parents Guide:

View content advisory »
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Details

Country:

USA

Language:

English | Albanian

Release Date:

23 April 1998 (Netherlands) See more »

Also Known As:

Des hommes d'influence See more »

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Box Office

Budget:

$15,000,000 (estimated)

Opening Weekend USA:

$92,079, 28 December 1997, Limited Release

Gross USA:

$43,022,524, 3 May 1998

Cumulative Worldwide Gross:

$64,217,092
See more on IMDbPro »

Company Credits

Show more on IMDbPro »

Technical Specs

Runtime:

Sound Mix:

DTS | Dolby Digital | SDDS

Color:

Color (Technicolor)

Aspect Ratio:

1.85 : 1
See full technical specs »
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Did You Know?

Trivia

One of five movie collaborations of Dustin Hoffman and Barry Levinson. The others being Sphere (1998), Sleepers (1996), Rain Man (1988), and Tootsie (1982). See more »

Goofs

While Conrad and Winifred are on the airport to fly to L.A., on the TV screen during the news report, Santa Fe is written Sante Fe. See more »

Quotes

Winifred Ames: How are we going to explain that when the world is watching?
Stanley Motss: Fuck the world. Try a ten a.m. script meeting, coked to the gills, no sleep and you haven't even read the treatment.
See more »

Crazy Credits

Dustin Hoffman's main title credit is faded in over a close up of a vacuum cleaner. See more »

Connections

Referenced in The Dirties (2013) See more »

Soundtracks

Taps
(uncredited)
Composed by Daniel Butterfield (as Butterfield)
[heard when Schumann's body arrives]
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User Reviews

 
Spinning a Yarn
19 March 2004 | by JamesHitchcockSee all my reviews

Hollywood is sometimes able to produce satirical films that, in retrospect, appear to predict future developments in American politics. `Being There', the story of a simple man whose homespun philosophy is taken for profound wisdom and who, as a result, becomes a candidate for President, may look like a satire on the Reagan administration, but in fact it was actually released in 1979, during the Carter years. `Dave', which features a womanising President called Bill whose marriage is in trouble because of his adulterous relationships and his trimming of his radical principles, came out in 1993, just after Bill Clinton had taken office. It must, however, have been planned well in advance and was presumably not actually intended as anti-Clinton satire, but that is how it tends to come across today.

`Wag the Dog' is another film that proves to have been unintentionally prophetic. Shortly before an election, the President is embroiled in a potentially explosive sex scandal which threatens to end his presidency in disgrace. In order to distract the public's attention, his advisers concoct a wholly fictitious military crisis in the Balkans and hire a Hollywood producer to provide the necessary harrowing footage of war scenes. When the Albanian government protest that their country is not in fact at war, the aides present this as a triumph of American diplomacy that has averted the threatened crisis, and, in order to keep the affair in the public's mind, concoct a further sub-plot involving a supposed military hero (in real life a convicted rapist in a military prison) held prisoner by a rebel faction.

All of this may seem very familiar, but bear in mind that this film was made in 1997, two years before President Clinton, faced with a potentially explosive sex scandal which for a time threatened to end his presidency in disgrace, took America to war over a crisis in the Balkans. At least he didn't need to concoct a fictitious war. The parallels with the more recent Iraq war are perhaps less exact, although the scenes involving the supposed hero `Old Shoe' were strongly reminiscent of the ballyhoo surrounding Private Jessica Lynch.

Like `Being There', `Wag the Dog' is not, of course, a work of social realism. In real life, a simpleton like Chance could not become President without being found out, and no administration could actually get away with inventing a bogus war. (That's why they have to provide real ones). In order to make a satirical point, both films exaggerate prevalent tendencies in modern political life. `Being There', among other things, is about self-deception- Chance never pretends to be anything he is not, but those around him deceive themselves by seeing him as what they want him to be. `Wag the Dog', on the other hand, is about political `spin' and the deliberate deception of the public. Politicians try and deceive as many of the people for as much of the time as they think they can get away with, and the media will go along with such deception for as long as it is in their interest.

`Wag the Dog' has some sharp points to make, and there is a very good performance from Dustin Hoffman as the Hollywood producer Stanley Motss. Motss is recognisably suffering from status anxiety in its most acute form- the form that afflicts the brilliantly successful and wealthy man who still feels undervalued by society and will do anything, however unethical or even dangerous to his own safety, to win public recognition. (He complains that there is no Academy Award specifically for producers, ignoring the fact that one is not needed because the producer traditionally receives the Best Picture award).

Despite that, however, I felt that the film as a whole was not as sharp or as funny as it could have been. I think the reason is that it is basically a one-joke film; once the war story has been exploded, the plot tends to lose direction. The idea of concocting a wholly bogus war is a brilliantly surreal satirical conceit; the idea of concocting a bogus hostage drama, although more inherently plausible, lacks the same inventiveness, so the `Old Shoe' scenes come as something of an anti-climax after what has gone before. I felt that Robert de Niro as the presidential aide Conrad Brean was less effective than Hoffman; I have never thought that comedy is his forte and that he is at his best in serious roles. (I may be judging unfairly, as there are several of his comedies that I have not seen). I also felt that it was a mistake not to show the President in the film- this may not be a realistic film, but the idea that a spin doctor could create a fictitious war without even the President being aware of what is going on strains credibility past its limits. Moreover, as we found out with Nixon and his attempted cover-up of the Watergate affair, the culture of spin involves our elected leaders themselves, not just members of their staff. Overall the film had its moments but could have been better. 6/10.


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