Wag the Dog

The Boston Phoenix

DIRECTED BY: Barry Levinson

REVIEWED: 01-04-98

We know that moviemakers like Robert Zemeckis employ images of real-life politicians for the purposes of their Hollywood fantasies. But do real-life politicians employ Hollywood fantasies for the purposes of their own protection and self-interest? That's the premise of Barry Levinson's satire Wag the Dog, in which a president caught with his pants down has to concoct a phony war to distract public opinion and win an upcoming election.

"When you think of the Gulf War," says Levinson in support of the story's plausibility, "it's not unlike a junket. They took everybody [journalists] over there and they put them in some Quonset hut and they brought them some food to eat and showed them videos. It was a totally controlled world. When I was watching at the time, I remember them saying, 60 days, 2000 missions a day. And I remember thinking: I keep seeing -- which is one of the lines of the film -- that same smart bomb going down that chimney blowing up that factory. That means they've got 120,000 videos of these sorties, how come I don't see at least a couple hundred? I remember saying, you could fake that very easily -- not that they did -- but you could. The people don't see anything, they're in the room, they have the food, they watch the video and someone comes out with a map. But no one saw anything, really."

"Theoretically, anything is possible," says Dustin Hoffman, who in contrast to his portrayal of a journalist exposing a Presidential cover-up in All the President's Men here plays a Hollywood producer who creates one. "We ain't seen nothing yet in terms of computer technology. So theoretically, you can recreate a war. We also know that Vietnam was the last war where the journalists were allowed total freedom and had, for the first time, sophisticated equipment. You could almost simultaneously see what was going on while you were eating dinner. Both Republicans and Democrats said 'We ain't gonna have this happen again.' Grenada, restricted, wasn't it? Gulf War, most restricted. There was video footage from that war made by people hired by a public-relations firm that was working for the administration."

Levinson and Hoffman had a chance to play their own disinformation game with President Clinton himself when they and other cast members met him at a Washington restaurant while shooting the movie.

"We had a nice conversation," Levinson remembers. "It was only when he asked 'What's the movie about?' and we all looked at one another and thought, well, what are we going to say here? Not that he'd be totally offended; he's got a pretty good sense of humor. And Dustin, of course, jumped in and told the story. Not this movie, some other movie. I have no idea what movie he was talking about."

"I don't think we demeaned him in the movie," says Hoffman. "First of all, it's not him, it's any President with a healthy libido. And personally I prefer a President with a healthy libido than one who compensates, to put it bluntly. Better Clinton's missile, than the other kind, which is used in place of it. But look at where we are now. Look at what's on the news. Is his penis bent? We all know what he's accused of. Can anybody tell you what year we're going to run out of rain forest? I've heard 2050, by the way. Talk about an age of denial."

--Peter Keough

Full Length Reviews
Wag the Dog
Wag the Dog
Wag the Dog
Wag the Dog
Wag the Dog
Wag the Dog
Wag the Dog
Wag the Dog

Capsule Reviews
Wag the Dog

Other Films by Barry Levinson
Liberty Heights

Film Vault Suggested Links
In & Out
The Sum of Us

Related Merchandise
Search for related videos at Reel.com
Search for more by Barry Levinson at Reel.com
Search for related books at Amazon.com
Search for related music at Amazon.com

Rate this Film
If you don't want to vote on a film yet, and would like to know how others voted, leave the rating selection as "Vote Here" and then click the Cast Vote button.