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Warner Home Video presents
Spartan (2004)

Scott: In the city, always a reflection. In the woods, always a sound.
Curtis: What about the desert?
Scott: You don't want to go in the desert.

- Val Kilmer, Derek Luke

Review By: Matt Peterson  
Published: July 21, 2004

Stars: Val Kilmer, Derek Luke, William H. Macy
Other Stars: Ed O'Neill, Kristen Bell, Stephen Culp
Director: David Mamet

MPAA Rating: R for violence and language
Run Time: 01h:46m:45s
Release Date: June 15, 2004
UPC: 085393880125
Genre: suspense thriller

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
A- A-AA- C+

DVD Review

David Mamet lives in his own world. Peppered with semi-poetic, metered dialogue, colorful characters and intriguing twists, his is a world of words, one in which we get rare opportunities to intrude. At times, I have felt his material, such as Glengarry Glen Ross, feels overwritten—too stylized for its own good. People simply don't talk this way, though the momentum of his work tends to convince us otherwise. Still, his work remains compelling. In Spartan, Mamet's subject is the world of the secret agent. This time around, he manages to defy some of his usual conventions, but the film remains decidedly Mamet.

Scott (Val Kilmer) is FBI, CIA, Secret Service, Special Forces, yet he is none of these. His allegiance to any one agency is questionable, though his loyalty to the country he serves is absolute. He understands the role of his position: carry out orders, don't ask too many questions, and set yourself to receive; thinking about the repercussions of his actions is for his "betters." This is a lesson his new trainee (Derek Luke) has yet to learn. Still wet behind the ears, Curtis is constantly looking for validation for his actions—a purpose for what he is doing beyond confidence in the greater good. Scott exudes the necessary demeanor of a critical teacher. However, he is aware of Curtis' abilities, though Curtis himself may not.

She's missing. When the daughter of an unnamed, high-ranking government official disappears, Scott is called to action. Laura Newton (Kristen Bell), a bright, intelligent Harvard student, vanished when her Secret Service detail was pulled to protect her father, who was in town not for a visit with his daughter, but for an adulterous rendezvous. Scott enters the warehouse-enclosed situation room, where agents are buzzing with activity, tracking clues and questioning suspects. Their conduct is calculated, efficient, cold. Extraneous talk is nonexistent. Officials Burch (Ed O'Neill) and Stoddard (William H. Macy) enter the fray, sizing up what to do next. The latter is especially enshrouded in shadow.

Scott and Curtis track the newly-dyed blonde Laura, looking for a sign: %) —her "cockeyed Picasso" smiley-face signature that she signs wherever she goes. As the agents follow the trail, they uncover an extensive web of prostitution, in which the girl is clearly involved. It becomes unclear whether Laura went unwilling into this cruel, dark trade. As events unfold, Scott is forced to leave the reservation and take the mission into his own hands. His enemies come from unlikely corners, forcing him to question his allies, and protect what he believes in. Mamet is clearly commenting on a government's tendency to treat life as a casual commodity, like any other currency. When protection of one's future is the top priority, all else becomes expendable.

Roger Ebert claims this is to be on his Top 10 list of 2004. Though it may be too early to make such a determination, it wouldn't be an injustice. This is an excellent, little-known film. Kilmer turns in an impressive, layered performance that echoes parts of Phillip Noyce's The Saint, but with more subtlety, and less comedy. At various points in the film, Kilmer is forced to wear many hats, including that of a mild-mannered citizen, and even that of a perverted pedophile, all for the sake of the case. In the end, it is clear this is a man with no true home but the mission. Derek Luke, and Tia Texada as agent Jackie Black, also deliver notable supporting roles. Even the briefly seen Kristen Bell, Ed O'Neill and William H. Macy are memorable, but Kilmer is clearly the anchor from which the story and characters function.

Despite some strong performances, it is Mamet's touch that makes this stand out. Through his lean script and impressive visuals, we are thrust into this complex world of codespeak, codenames, and implied courses of action. Thankfully, the dialogue is not too processed. Mamet does not talk down to the audience with direct explanations, but slowly peels away the layers of mystery and red herrings, revealing the extent of the plot at hand. We are privy to the world of the spy, creating a thriller with a distinct, unique, immersing feel. Some may find a few of the twists involved to be farfetched and unrealistic, but real life is usually more absurd than what may transpire within the frames of Mamet's work.

Rating for Style: A-
Rating for Substance: A-


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio2.35:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: Warner's anamorphic 2.35:1 transfer is pristine. Blacks are rich, showing good contrast, and detail is high. The occasionally bright colors of Juan Ruiz Anchia's moody cinematography come through beautifully. There is some minor film grain during some darker scenes, but this was no doubt seen on the theatrical prints, as well.

Image Transfer Grade: A


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
Dolby Digital

Audio Transfer Review: The Dolby 5.1 mix is not overly flashy, but gets the job done. Dialogue is thankfully clear and upfront. The surrounds kick in for ambiance and the occasional directional effect during the filmís action scenes. Mark Isham's memorable, percussive score is rendered well across the soundstage. This is a very natural, pleasant mix that becomes powerful and aggressive when called for.

Audio Transfer Grade: A-


Disc Extras

Full Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 28 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, French, Spanish with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
2 Other Trailer(s) featuring The Big Bounce, Shade
1 Feature/Episode commentary by Val Kilmer
Packaging: generic plastic keepcase
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extras Review: There are two forced trailers (listed above) that play before the main menu, but can be skipped. Aside from Spartan's theatrical trailer, the only other related extra is a commentary by Val Kilmer. Kilmer's bloated ego, combined with an extremely dry sense of humor makes for a very interesting listen. At times, he simply messes with the listener with comments like (I'm paraphrasing, here): "We shot this near Santa Barbara, but it's supposed to the be the East coast. You can tell it's all wrong because the water is coming in from the West, or left. If we were really out East, it should be on the right side..." Also, Kilmer is proud of Spartan because he claims it's the Mamet film with the least profanity: "To rely on profanity is just embarrassing...my Mother could see this film." This is stated immediately before his character shoots someone. Funny, but don't believe everything you hear.

Also, Warner has seen fit to release this title (and many other new releases) in a keepcase! Bravo!

Extras Grade: C+


Final Comments

David Mamet's overlooked, spartan thriller is peppered with his usual stylized dialogue, but does not go overboard. Its immersing feel, subtextual messages, and noteworthy performances make for engaging viewing. Similar to Kurosawa, who dabbled in pre-defined genres and produced masterworks, Mamet takes the spy film to a new level. Highly recommended.


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