A and A's Movie A Day

Watching movies until we run out.

Movie 247 – Wag the Dog

Wag the Dog – November 2nd, 2010

I hate politics. Really. Political discussions never fail to leave me with a sense of vague impending dread. I work in a public position, and on election days I spend the evening in a polling location, where people frequently expect me to tell them how I voted and to engage in debates while I work. I try to take election days off to avoid having to deal with things like that. I vote (in every election) and then I sit at home and don’t watch the news.

So it’s a good thing this movie isn’t really about politics. At no point do we ever find out which party is behind the machinations in the movie. Really, arguments could be made for either side because no policies are discussed. One character, Winifred, who works for the current president, goes on a tear at one point, calling another character a Commie liberal, but then said “Commie liberal” is mentioned as being supportive of the current president. And he doesn’t actually vote in political elections. He votes for the Academy Awards. That’s it. This is a movie about spin and the media and maneuvering and manipulation and misdirection. So okay, maybe it is a movie about politics, but not real politics. It’s about modern politics and how it’s often not the policies we hear about. The policies are incidental. It’s the stories we hear. And as any reader knows, you can make up some pretty impressive stories when you put your mind to it.

Now, this is satire. Very dark satire, given the ending, but yes. Satire. It is meant as an exaggeration of the subject, but only to a point. The whole idea is that it’s presenting something that isn’t wholly unbelievable and then takes it over the top. In the movie the president is about to be embroiled in a scandal involving sexual misconduct. And so Conrad Brean is called in. Mr. Fixit. The guy who takes care of situations like this. Because the election is coming up in eleven days and this will sink any chance for re-election. And Conrad goes to work immediately, manufacturing first some rumors about a new bomber and then rumors about a situation in Albania and then, with the help of a film producer named Stanley Motss, he manufactures a war. Sure, the start of it was rumors and rumors can spiral outwards quickly on their own, but soon they need footage and people and story. And so they make them. Brean and Motss and Winifred Ames, a presidential aide, together with Motss’s assistant Grace and a team of Hollywood folks who work on fads and songs and costumes and all the trappings they’ll need.

What’s fun for me to watch in this movie isn’t just how the team comes up with piece after piece of this elaborate hoax, but watching them watch the press run with it. All they have to do is leak a word or two to the right person and suddenly the press is doing it all for them. Building the story higher and higher than they ever could have done it themselves. I can only imagine how it would play out in a more net-savvy time. This wasn’t made that long ago, but long enough ago in computer time that the web wasn’t the same sort of force it is now. Just imagine the memes that would rise out of this now. Shoe-based macros would only be the tip of the iceberg. It’s about media and the press and all that, yes. But it’s also about the power of suggestion and imagination and how much can be done with just an idea.

To be honest, I feel a little guilty about liking this movie. I don’t really like what’s done in it. I despise this sort of playing on emotions and manipulation. The whole hoax is pretty sickening, really, if you think about it from a serious perspective. But I can’t help but admire the set-up. The grandeur and audacity of it. I don’t have to like it to appreciate it as presented here. And it helps that it’s presented in a fantastically clever way by a wonderful cast. It’s just wild enough to be unrealistic (unless you’re particularly paranoid, which I’m not today, since I’ve been avoiding the news, and no, that is NOT an invitation to comment and tell me what’s going on), and has plenty of humor spread throughout. So I can laugh at it even as I find the actions reprehensible. Robert De Niro is wonderfully understated as Brean and Dustin Hoffman plays an excellent counterpoint to him as Motss. I’ve always loved Anne Heche as Winifred (a part originally written for a man) and the team who put together the whole show (Willie Nelson, Denis Leary and Andrea Martin). There are smaller parts, like Woody Harrelson, William H. Macy and Kirsten Dunst (who says one of my favorite throwaway references “These are chips!”) that are all great. I love everyone in this movie. They pull it off so well. And so I can hate what they’re doing and still chuckle as they do it. That’s a well done movie. And I still maintain it’s not really about politics at all.

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November 2, 2010 - Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , ,

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