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March 2004

By Julian Roman
Distributor: Warner Bros.
Directed by: David Mamet
Produced by: David Bergstein, Moshe Diamant, Art Linson, Elie Samaha
Screenwriter: David Mamet
Composer: Mark Isham
Cast: Tia Texada, Derek Luke, Val Kilmer, Lionel Mark Smith, Johnny Messner, Tony Mamet, Vincent Guastaferro, Robert Bella, Aaron Stanford, Geoffrey Pierson, William H. Macy, Ed O'Neill, Sad Taghmaoui, Matt Malloy, Kristen Bell

David Mamet's Spartan is a crisp, taut thriller, laden with surprises and frenetic in its pace. The film never stops or slows down. The plot is time driven and there is a sense of urgency in every minute of the story. Val Kilmer stars as Marine intelligence officer Robert Scott. His craft is covert espionage operations. The man is a lethal agent, unencumbered by laws or morality. He's called into action when the President's daughter, Laura Newton (Kristen Bell), vanishes from her college campus in Boston. The Secret Service give's Scott and his team carte blanche to find what out what happened. Time is against them. She's taken on a Friday night and the press will notice if she doesn't show up to class on Monday.

The entire situation behind her disappearance is very suspicious. It looks like she might have been kidnapped into white slavery. The potential abductors might not know who she is. She radically changed her appearance and went somewhere she shouldn't have gone. Why did her Secret Service guard leave her? Was she having improper relations with dangerous men? These questions haunt the investigation. Scott's new assistant, Curtis (Derek Luke), makes some startling discoveries about the case. There's something deeper, more dangerous driving these events. Scott goes on a rampage in his quest to retrieve her. His tenacity is startling, loyal to the mission at all costs. This time it's different. He will be forced to make choices and examine everything in his belief structure.

Mamet's writing and the execution of the plot are fantastic. He never dumbs it down for the audience. Important events are happening on screen and they must be paid attention to. Mamet's plot twists are like throwing a wrench into a combine. Everything comes to a screeching halt and must be re-examined. That's the beauty of this movie. Most Hollywood films spoon-feed the audience, using characters and film tricks to explain what's happening. There's no time in Mamet's story. Scenes are not wasted. Bravo to Mamet and his editor, Barbara Tulliver. They hit the perfect note in pacing the story. I was on the edge of my seat while watching this film. It never lags, one hundred and four minutes of captivating entertainment.

Val Kilmer delivers a stoic, high caliber performance. Scott is a man of pure action. His character has been bred by the military to perform at peak levels in all situations. This is his curse and greatest trait. He is unquestionably up to the task of carrying out the order to retrieve the girl. Doors are closed; he is asked what he is prepared to do to get her back. His automatic response, "I will do anything to get the girl back". The title of the film, Spartan, refers to a custom in the ancient Greek city. I'm giving this away to elaborate the crisis that Scott faces. The Spartan King would not send an army to get back a hostage. He would assign the task to one highly motivated soldier. Scott is the ultimate pawn. His predicament is to think. To challenge what he is told by his superiors and follow what he believes is the right course of action. Kilmer loads Scott with small nuances. His fleeting show of emotion is dead on for this particular character. It's the sign of an actor that understands his role and the craft of acting. The raw physical menace of Scott must also be praised. Kilmer is in peak shape and very intimidating. He crushes other characters in scene after scene of confrontation. Scott disables or kills with ruthless efficiency. Don't expect stylized action scenes in this movie.

David Mamet favors complex situations in his works as a writer and director. He rarely gives his characters easy choices. From Glengarry Glenn Ross to State and Main, across all the genres Mamet explores, the morality of the lead character is the crux of the story. It is the compass that drives their decisions. Robert Scott is probably Mamet's least complex character in some time. I really respect the way Scott deals with the situation. There's no ambiguity once a decision has been made. Mamet knows his character and never cheapens him for melodrama. Spartan is an excellent film. It succeeds as a first-rate thriller and that's hard to find these days in Hollywood.