Wag The Dog

Dom Robinson reviews

Wag The DogA Hollywood producer. A Washington spin-doctor.
When they get together, they can make you believe anythingDistributed by

Entertainment In Video


    • Cat.no: EDV 9009
    • Cert: 15
    • Running time: 92 minutes
    • Year: 1998
    • Pressing: 1999
    • Region(s): 2 (UK PAL)
    • Chapters: 19 plus extras
    • Sound: Dolby Digital 5.1
    • Languages: English
    • Subtitles: English
    • Widescreen: 1.85:1
    • 16:9-enhanced: Yes
    • Macrovision: No
    • Disc Format: DVD 9
    • Price: £19.99
    • Extras : Scene index, Featurette: From Washington To Hollywood, Trailer,Interviews, Director’s Commentary, Biographies, Filmographies, B-Roll,Animated menu


      Barry Levinson

    (Avalon, Bugsy, Diner, Disclosure, Good Morning Vietnam, Jimmy Hollywood, The Natural, Rain Man, Sleepers, Sphere, Tin Men, Toys, Young Sherlock Holmes)


    Jane Rosenthal, Robert DeNiro and Barry Levinson


    Hilary Henkin and David Mamet


    Mark Knopfler


    Stanley Motss: Dustin Hoffman (All The President’s Men, American Buffalo, Billy Bathgate, Dick Tracy, Family Business, The Graduate, Hero, Hook, Ishtar, Kramer Vs. Kramer, Lenny, Little Big Man, Mad City, Marathon Man, Midnight Cowboy,Outbreak, Papillon, Rain Man, Sleepers, Sphere, Straw Dogs, Tootsie)
    Conrad Brean: Robert De Niro (Awakenings, Backdraft, Brazil, A Bronx Tail, Cape Fear, Casino, Cop Land, The Deerhunter, The Fan, The Godfather Part II,Goodfellas, Great Expectations (1997), Guilty By Suspicion, Heat, Jackie Brown, Jacknife, The King Of Comedy, Mad Dog and Glory, Marvin’s Room,Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, Mean Streets, Midnight Run, The Mission, New York New York, Night and the City,Raging Bull, Ronin, Sleepers, Stanley & Iris, Taxi Driver, This Boy’s Life, The Untouchables)
    Winifred Ames: Anne Heche (Adventures of Huck Finn, Donnie Brasco, Force Majeure, I’ll Do Anything, I Know What You Did Last Summer, The Juror, Milk Money, Psycho 98, A Simple Twist of Fate, Six Days Seven Nights, Walking and Talking,Volcano)
    Sgt. William Schumann: Woody Harrelson (Money Train, Natural Born Killers)
    Fad King: Denis Leary (Demolition Man, Gunmen, Hostile Hostages, The Neon Bible, The Sandlot Kids, Stolen Hearts)
    Johnny Dean: Willie Nelson (Another Pair of Aces: Three of a Kind, Big Dreams and Broken Hearts, The Electric Horseman)
    Tracy Lime: Kirsten Dunst (Bonfire Of The Vanities, Interview with the Vampire, Jumanji, Little Women, New York Stories)
    Mr. Young: William H. Macy (Air Force One, A Civil Action, The Client, Fargo, Murder in the First)
    Senator Neal: Craig T. Nelson (All The Right Moves, Ghosts From The Past, The Killing Fields, Poltergeist 1 & 2, Turner and Hooch, TV: Coach)

Wag The Dogis all about faking it to the public and making them believe anything just to getthe desired result at the end of your task. As the start of the film declares :

Why does a dog wag its tail ?
Because a dog is smarter than its tail.
If the tail were smarter, the tail would wag the dog

It is eleven days before the Presidential election and he needs some help towin, especially since he’s just been caught doing what he shouldn’t with ayoung girl in the Whitehouse, but if you ever thought that elections wererigged – or helped along in some way – then you’ll be very surprised about thesituations that this film brings up.

Together spin-doctor Ronnie Brean (Robert De Niro) and Hollywood producerStan Motss (Dustin Hoffman) concoct a war in Albania striking up which thePresident is going to clear up just in time for election day and win by a landslide.However, time is called by their opponent when the peace breaks out to calm the”war” before they’re ready. It looks like all is lost for Brean and Moss but theyfind a way of turning the whole mess around by going to quite extroadinarycircumstances.

De Niro and Hoffman turn in first-rate performances as always, but while most of theremainder of the cast do a fine job filling in the gaps inbetween, Anne Hechehas a nothing-role as a Presidential aide who spends her time following the othertwo around, repeating things that they say and being an annoying sidekick. WoodyHarrelson has a fair bit of fun with a character I won’t say much about as itwill give part of the plot away, while Craig T. Nelson‘s role as the opposingSenator goes by uncredited.

David Mamet‘s script has plenty of clever one-liners but the triumphs comein certain things that are said which makes you wonder just how real the newsevents are that you see on TV. It’s also topical in that the DVD is releasedduring the war in Kosovo which is now resolved – was that real? Some of you readingthis may be disgusted at this comment but if you watch the film too, you’ll sooncome round to my way of thinking.

On the plus side of things, the picture quality is artifact-free – something that nottoo many DVDs can claim even a year after the format was introduced to the UK andis one of only two DVDs from the first batch of Entertainment In Video releases, theother beingBoogie Nights,but something hasn’t gone quite right with it. The picture is slightly stretchedsideways to the point where it’s very obvious. At first I thought there wassomething wrong with my set-up as if I’d altered the mode of my widescreen TVbut it wasn’t. If you watch the film on a PC screen via a DVD-ROM drive, you canadjust the picture on the monitor so it looks normal. Alas, this makes nodifference to the picture on a TV, but after putting on another tried-and-testedDVD I wasn’t getting the same effect so I realised it wasn’t me. This onlyhappens when watching the anamorphic version which gives an extra 33% ofresolution, so it’s not an easy decision to choose the stretched-anamorphicimage over the non-anamorphic but geometry-correct one.

I wasn’t able to determine the average bitrate as the information is not onthis release, but geometry-reservations aside, the compression was handledwell and the film is presented in its original widescreen ratio of 1.85:1,not the slightly less-wide 16:9 as quoted on the back cover.

The sound quality is perfect though with crisp and clear dialogue and whatit lacks in a speaker-workout that the explosions from an action film woulddeliver, it makes up with a gorgeous score from Mark Knopfler whichsounds like the sort he could write in his sleep but is none-the-lessimpressive.

The film is presented in Dolby Digital 5.1, again a feature only shared byBoogie Nights,from EiV’s first batch of releases, which downmixes to Dolby ProLogic if youdo not have the requisite DD5.1 equipment.

Extras : Chapters :There are 19 chapters to choose from during the 92 minutes of the film whichcover each of the major scenes in the film, but a few more wouldn’t go amiss.Note that on the chapter selection screen – and index inside the case – it’sone out. Chapter 1 is the New Line logo plus the opening statement on how thefilm got its name, so when the selection allows a choice of 1 to 18, it’sactually 2-19. A theatrical trailer is also included in 4:3 pan-and-scan. Languages & Subtitles :

The language and subtitles are in English only, the former coming in DolbyDigital 5.1. I found to select the subtitles if you’re not watching the filmfrom the beginning, you have no choice but to do this and find your placeagain since putting the DVD in and selecting your favourite scene will resultin a text-less picture.

Other extras :

  • Director’s commentary: This is a feature-length stereo commentary bydirector Levinson with Dustin Hoffman giving their insights on the making ofthe film.
  • Featurette: From Washington To Hollywood: A 25-minute ‘making of’about the film including chat from several principal crew members.
  • Biographies and Filmographies: These are given for Hoffman,De Niro, Anne Heche, director Levinson and screenwriter DavidMamet, but as you’ll find out in a minute William H. Macy‘s faceis shown while Mamet’s info scrolls up. Why though?
  • Interviews: These are brief chats with most of the above, exceptfor Mamet whose ‘interview’ slot is replaced with William H. Macy talkingfor little more than 30 seconds about his cameo and nothing to do with Mamet,but perhaps they left the caption there as he was sat in the same chair for…
  • Macy About Mamet: Six minutes of comments from one man aboutanother.
  • B-Roll: An interesting selection from the daily rushes (footage shotduring the film including different takes on some scenes), lasting for 10minutes.
  • Production Notes: Pages of information about the background to thefilm. Menu :

    The menu system is very nice indeed. As well as being easy to navigate, eachpage has selections from the movie soundtrack and some are animated includingthe main menu and the scene selections.

    On inserting the disc, you see the copyright info, the Entertainment In Videologo and finally the New Line Cinema logo before the menu appears.Clicking on “Play Movie” brings up the New Line Cinema logo again before thefilm starts.

    Overall, out of Entertainment In Video’s first wave of DVD releases, this oneis the best of the bunch. It’s a very good film albeit with a slow patch duringthe middle half-hour and the DVD has an anamorphic widescreen transfer, even ifit does have one aforementioned problem, as well as all the extras of itsAmerican counterpart – something else that most UK DVDs tend to miss out on.FILM : ****PICTURE QUALITY : ****SOUND QUALITY: *****EXTRAS: *****——————————-OVERALL: ****½

    Review copyright © Dominic Robinson, 1999.

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