Film of the Day - Wag the Dog


Robert De Niro, Anne Heche and Dustin Hoffman in Wag the Dog

Robert De Niro, Anne Heche and Dustin Hoffman in Wag the Dog

 

A movie for every day of the year – a good one

 

 

26 January

 

 

President Clinton denies “sexual relations” with Monica Lewinsky, 1998

On this day in 1998, a serving president of the United States responded to allegations that he had had sex with a woman other than his wife. “I did not have sexual relations with that woman, Monica Lewinsky” said Bill Clinton at the end of a White House press conference, with his wife standing beside him. Unfortunately for Clinton, there had been what most people would call a sexual relationship, and Lewinsky had a blue dress stained with the president’s semen to prove it. Later in the year, boxed into a corner, Clinton would admit that he had had an “improper physical relationship” and a relationship that was “not appropriate”. However he still maintained he had not had “sexual relations”. It appeared, on closer questioning, that Clinton considered “sexual relations” hadn’t happened because he had not had contact with Lewinsky’s “genitalia, anus, groin, breast, inner thigh or buttocks.” In other words giving oral sex was “sexual relations” but receiving oral sex was not.

 

 

 

Wag the Dog (1997, dir: Barry Levinson)

After the underwhelming overhyped appearance of 1970s film legends Al Pacino and Robert De Niro “together for the first time” in Heat in 1995, it actually fell to director Barry Levinson to engineer an altogether more satisfying though similarly stellar, similarly 1970s collision with this pairing of De Niro and Dustin Hoffman. Working off a smart, cynical script by David Mamet and Hilary Henkin, Wag the Dog stalks satirically through the story of a US president caught with his trousers down just a few days before election day. Moving quickly to avert a disaster, a White House aide (Anne Heche) calls in tweedy spin doctor Conrad Brean (De Niro), all beard and reassuring avuncularity, who suggests they cook up a crisis in a foreign land no one cares about (hello Albania), invite the President to rattle his sabre, before moving swiftly to a resolution of said conflict, and a boost in the opinion polls. Brean then co-opts Hollywood producer Stanley Motss (Hoffman) to stage-manage the entire phoney event – from commissioning a hokey song by Willie Nelson, to directing the “rescue” of a US military man supposedly held captive by those dastardly Albanians. And together – the wonk feeding the press with stories, the producer supplying the visuals – they proceed to wag the dog, public opinion. It’s surprisingly easily done, according to Mamet and Henkin, who milk the whole concept till the teat is flapping, then squeeze it a little more. The same can’t be said for Hoffman and De Niro, who bring just the right amount of screwball zip to roles that could easily go flat, Hoffman the permatanned Hollywood pro whose every production is essentially about himself, De Niro the trilby-wearing fixer with a bloodline going back to Machiavelli. It was all shot in just 29 days, and on a comparatively tiny budget. You could probably knock out 30 such films for one Michael Bay production. If anyone’s listening…

 

 

Why Watch?

 

  • Robert De Niro and Dustin Hoffman on screen together for the first time
  • The acerbic script
  • The “it could never happen, ooh it just did” scenario
  • Great support from the likes of Kirsten Dunst, William H Macy, Denis Leary and Woody Harrelson

 

© Steve Morrissey 2014

 

 

Wag the Dog – at Amazon

 

 

 

 

imdb poster Wag the Dog
Wag the Dog (1997)
Run time: 97 min
Rating: 7.1
Genres: Comedy | Drama
Director: Barry Levinson
Writers: Larry Beinhart, Hilary Henkin
Stars: Dustin Hoffman, Robert De Niro, Anne Heche
Trivia: 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.
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 Keywords: hollywood, scandal, spin doctor, death, cover up
Box Office Budget: $15,000,000 (estimated)
Opening Weekend: DEM 709,091 (Germany) (27 March 1998)
Gross: $43,022,524 (USA) (1 May 1998)