When highly respected secret military operations specialist Robert Scott (Val Kilmer) is recruited to find Laura Newton (Kristen Bell), the daughter of a politician on the eve of elections, he is paired with novice Curtis (Derek Luke), who becomes his protégé. Working with a special task force, Scott and Curtis stumble on a white slavery ring, which may have some connection to Laura's disappearance. The search-and-rescue mission gets complicated by the political ambitions of some in high places - like Stoddard (William H. Macy), a political operative who may know more than he's telling. Scott and Curtis are on the brink of finding Laura when the mission is abruptly ended, the media reporting her death in a boating accident. Scott returns to his farm, but Curtis can't rest. He believes that Laura is in fact alive. If she is, their continued unofficial investigation will put them, as well as Laura, at the centre of a dangerous conspiracy that reaches to the highest levels.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
Snappy dialogue and editing, a no-nonsense shorthand style and tough, insider-informed talk give this thriller a hard edge and loads of tension - aided by a score that has it, too. David Mamet, a writer who became a filmmaker, works the dark thriller side of the movie street here, combing his writing skills with his well polished cinematic instincts.
In Scott, he provides Val Kilmer with a great vehicle for a classic laconic loner who - in this case - prefers to do the shooting and asking no question before or after. He's an undercover soldier who's so good at his job he has no need to grimace in action. Derek Luke has a thankless support role as the clever and keen sidekick, but it's Tia Texada who gets more leg room as Jackie Black, a commando chick who wants to be on Scott's team, and impresses her way there. Within both these relationships, Scott is revealed to us as a combo of machismo and emotional dwarf, with a desire to let it all hang out. Or at least some of it. He gets to do that a bit with the kidnapped girl, later in the film, in one of a few scenes where Mamet stops the action to poke deeper into his characters.
For instance, Curtis has a sentimental memento from his Ranger dad, a folded card with a list of rules that hark back to the old fashioned values of how to behave in various situations. This becomes a symbolic piece of paper that separates the two men.
These are fleeting asides, though, because Mamet has to keep the film true to its genre: action, thriller, drama, boys being tough, etc. His style is highly economical, episodic almost, and he tells the gripping story with lean elan.
But there are a few ropy elements, including a bit of business with that little card of values, which Scott ends up using to roll a cigarette - for the kidnapped girl. The impact of the symbolism is lessened by the fact that the tobacco seems to appear out of nowhere, inside a dark shipping container at Dubai airport.
Laura's father is never introduced to us, and the deliberately vague nature of his political position - becoming a vague being a generalisation - creates a sense of unreality. These sorts of people are vile, is the contention, but it becomes too vague a generalisation - for dramatic purposes.
There is another gnawing glitch in the woman who claims to be a Secret Service agent inside the kidnapped girl's family home during the funeral service being held for her when she is believed dead. She claims to Scott that she was also Laura's Nanny since her early childhood, an idea that is oddly discordant and pretty well unimaginable. These small things can throw us out of the moment, out of the film, but despite that, it's a taut and terrific entertainment, with aspects that make you think.
Published October 20, 2004
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SPARTAN: DVD (M15+)
CAST: Val Kilmer, Derek Luke, Tia Texada, Jeremie Campbell, Lionel Mark Smith, Kristen Bell, Ed O'Neil and William H. Macy
DIRECTOR: David Mamet
SCRIPT: David Mamet
RUNNING TIME: 106 minutes
SPECIAL FEATURES: Trailers
DVD DISTRIBUTOR: Col TriStar Entertainment
DVD RELEASE: October 20, 2004