Wag the Dog. 1997. USA. Directed by Barry Levinson. Screenplay by Hilary Henkin, David Mamet, based on the novel by Larry Beinhart. With Robert De Niro, Dustin Hoffman, Anne Heche. 35mm. 97 min.
A pitch-black satire upon its release 25 years ago, Barry Levinson’s journey through the dark heart of the American political machine is now a familiar reflection of reality. With the President on the brink of scandal for sexually assaulting a minor mere days before the election, a political fixer (a brilliantly deadpan Robert De Niro, in an early comedic turn) and a White House aide (Anne Heche) hire a bombastic Hollywood producer (Dustin Hoffman) to manufacture a fictitious war with Albania to distract the public. The scheme never ceases, and the cynical trio manages to control the story as the deception reaches impossible heights. The audacity is undercut by Robert Richardson’s classical, steady cinematography and Wynn Thomas’s muted color palette and dark rooms. Initially released just a month before the Monica Lewinsky scandal broke—and now post-W, post-Obama, post-#MeToo, and post-Trump—the film’s mechanisms of deceit may be more familiar than ever, but they’re still just as hard to swallow.