DIRECTED BY David Mamet
STARRING Val Kilmer, Derek Luke, William H Macy
Opens August 6, Cert 15, 106 mins
Nobody makes gusty dramas better than Chicago playwright/director David Mamet, and this relentless conspiracy thriller jumps straight to the top of his already impressive cinematic CV.
Val Kilmer, right back at the peak of his form, plays lone-wolf special forces agent Robert Scott, a roving assassin for an ultra-secret unit of the US Army. When the president’s daughter is kidnapped from college by a bunch of white slavers unaware of her political significance, Scott is partnered with rookie agent Curtis (Luke) and ordered to track down and rescue the missing girl before the press pick up the story. Scott’s ruthless, stop-at-nothing dedication brings him within a hair’s breadth of finding the girl before his mission is brought to an abrupt halt, leaving the idealistic Curtis to instigate an unofficial investigation that uncovers a conspiracy leading straight to the cold, dark heart of the US government.
Spartan has everything you could want from a David Mamet flick: seductively labyrinthine plotting, razor-sharp dialogue, rock-solid acting and a healthy undercurrent of government-baiting cynicism. The first, and best, hour is a masterclass in tension-building, and delivers complex plot exposition via pared-to-the-bone dialogue and understated performances.
A number of ever-reliable Mamet stock players are on hand to flesh out this dark political world. Ed O’Neill’s Burch and William H Macy’s Stoddard are dead-eyed officials who project genuine menace, while Antwone Fisher’s Luke contributes a quietly effective performance as the partner-cum-conscience who ultimately spurs Scott to question his superiors.
Spartan is as much Val Kilmer’s triumph as it is Mamet’s. Harnessing the leading-man brilliance he’s always been capable of, Kilmer is utterly convincing as the consummate, albeit conflicted, assassin?a man who is equally at home inspiring troops, manipulating witnesses or executing enemies of the state.
Blessed with such a charismatic central performance, Spartan powers its way through some routine second-half heroics, showcases Mamet the film-maker at his hardboiled best and emerges as that cinematic rarity: an ass-kicking action thriller with style and brains.