Film Scouts Reviews

"Wag the Dog"

by Karen Jaehne

Buy this video from

Music from
Buy The Soundtrack.

Wag the Dog is the best satire - strike that! - psychological documentary since Dr. Strangelove, an equally splendid outburst of political paranoia. Oh, incidentally, if you're not paranoid, you're just not paying attention.

Robert DeNiro plays Conrad, a bearded bum of a spin-meister who rescues the President, after he's caught with a Firefly Girl on a tour of the White House only eleven days before an election. To help him engineer a diversionary action, he calls on Hollywood producer Dustin Hoffman, who understands manipulation, the media, the electorate, and the importance of country music. Hoffman is kind of Steven Bochco in twenty years, and his best moment is when he knocks on the desk in the Oval Office and likes what he feels. It reminds us that L.A. and D.C. are separated only by television territory. And we see an absolute first in movie history: the CIA are the good guys.

Now I'm the kind of cynic who used to think that the scandalous pecadillos of politicians were created to distract us from real crises and foreign policy fiascos. Wag the Dog has straightened me out. Now we will all know that global hot spots are crafted to distract us from the moral hi-jinx of our leaders. And are we really between Iraq and a hard place?

Why has the White House become our national soap opera? The Oval Office and its denizens are popping up on the silver screen as often as the seven o'clock news. Perhaps we've lost our awe for the Office of the President. For us, that's almost as bad as losing an election. We've come a long way since the Silent Era, when some 100 prexy bio-pix were made about Abraham Lincoln. Presidents, too, have come and gone from the bijou - they've even come the other way, if you all recall Ronald Reagan. But it's been a long decline from misty-eyed visions of Abe to The War Room.

The most impressive thing about The President of the United States in this movie is that he never appears. All we know about him really is that he prefers a white cat for a war commercial. Obviously, he's forgotten everything he ever learned about semiology or even advertising, if he's going with white, not calico. Taste is telling.

A critical analysis of this unseen, phantom-behind-the-Phantom-jets president invokes something in movie criticism called Structured Absence. That's academic jargon for the hole in the donut. And that oughta tell you which president we're talking about. Like I said, pay attention, keep your paranoia on the cutting edge. See this film - or die. You may die anyway, but at least you'll know why.

Back to Wag the Dog

Back to the Press Room

Look for Search Tips

Copyright 1994-2008 Film Scouts LLC
Created, produced, and published by Film Scouts LLC
Film Scouts® is a registered trademark of Film Scouts LLC
All rights reserved.

Suggestions? Comments? Fill out our Feedback Form.