Wag the Dog

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Not only was Barry Levinson’s comedy shot in a relatively fast period of 29 days, the satire of politics and show business feels as if it were made yesterday. There’s a fresh spin quite evident here, a nervy satire of a presidential crisis and the people who whitewash the facts. The main players are a mysterious Mr. Fix-It (Robert De Niro), a veteran Hollywood producer (Dustin Hoffman, who received an Oscar nomination for his role), and an ambitious White House aide (Anne Heche). Can the president’s molesting of a young girl be buried in the two weeks before an election? A war in Albania just might do the trick. In the good old days, the president would just invade. With modern technology, it’s even cleaner. The hungry press looks for any lead, convenient misinformation is created by the latest Hollywood fakery (“all developed by the new James Cameron film”), creating images and merchandise all instantly packaged. And it must be real, because it’s on TV! David Mamet’s biting screenplay never questions the morals or the absolute secrecy needed to pull this thing off. He and director Barry Levinson have injected just enough truth in the story to make you ponder the increasingly fine line between real news and shameless promotion the next time you watch CNN.