Anthony's Film Review

Wag the Dog (1997)

Political satire with humorous wit that often rings true in the information age...

Wag the Dog is not funny in a lighthearted, jovial way. It's more funny in a melancholic way. You are laughing at something that shouldn't be funny. You are watching a film about a problem that, in real life, could have drastic consequences. But after a while, you feel OK about it, because the alternative is to cry or complain about it. That's the purpose of black comedy and why political cartoons never die.

We're not talking about political cartoons, but we are talking about political satire. Wag the Dog is a great example of it. Its cast includes Dustin Hoffman, Robert De Niro, and Anne Heche. The main characters are a team of people, including a film producer and a Washington spin doctor, who attempt to divert public attention away from a scandal. The President of the United States has just engaged in an affair with a young girl. In any situation like this, the main objective is damage control.

But instead of damage control, they perform damage refocus. If something even more serious were to occur, the priority changes. So they decide to stage a war abroad without having an actual war. In a film studio, they get an actress to dress as a refugee, hold a large bag of potato chips, and run past the camera with a blue screen behind her. Thanks to the magic of Hollywood special effects, the bag of chips is changed to a cat and the blue screen to a city at war. From there, this film is aired on the television news as authentic footage of this war.

This sequence can generate a big smile just for its daringness and bravery. If you think that's funny, wait until you see what happens from there. A great lie like this could be maintained or finally uncovered. There's a sense of anticipation when you wonder what will happen, then a great surprise as the movie gets close to the end. Basically, you laugh at the setup, then you laugh some more at how it plays out, and finally laugh at the end after seeing how well the film keeps you on your toes.

As Wag the Dog suggests, the media have a significant influence on how people think. More importantly, they air only the most sensational material, which can change from one day to the next. The way the movie portrays it is funny, but you realize that this could be happening right now without you knowing it. In fact, it has probably happened once already. Shortly after Wag the Dog was released, U.S. President Bill Clinton had an extramarital affair with Monica Lewinsky, later followed by military strikes in Afghanistan targeting Osama bin Laden. Did people still remember the sex scandal? For some of them, probably not.

Anthony's Rating:

For more information about Wag the Dog, visit the Internet Movie Database.


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