Wag the Dog (1997)
May 4, 2015 2:13 PM - Subscribe

[From IMDB] Shortly before an election, a spin-doctor and a Hollywood producer join efforts to fabricate a war in order to cover up a presidential sex scandal.

Campaign Climate
We meet our characters a mere two weeks before the big day. The president is up for reelection in a close race and suddenly finds himself in the middle of a scandal with a Firefly Girl. His staff goes into panic mode to bury the story.

Political Context
Based on the (fictional) book American Hero by Larry Beinhart, detailing how Operation Desert Storm was all a ploy to get Bush I reelected. The plot is briefly referenced in the movie when discussing the famous Gulf War bombing clip.

Fun Facts
The president's campaign slogan ("don't change horses in the middle of the stream") is the one Abraham Lincoln used for his reelection campaign.

Three original songs were composed for the movie though none appear on the album.

Election Outcome
The president's approval rating soars amidst a surge of patriotism and his reelection is implied. USA! USA! USA!
posted by phunniemee (9 comments total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
This is probably one of my top 5 favorite movies. It plays right into the cynical patriot in me.

Everything about the movie is perfect. The music, the detachment (none of the architects of the fake war even vote!), the casting, the Jim Belushi cameo. I love it.
posted by phunniemee at 2:19 PM on May 4, 2015 [5 favorites]

Funny story. About a year after this movie came out the real-life US President found himself accused of following the film's plot & distracting the country from a sex scandal by faking a pretext to go to war when he ordered a cruise missile strike on a compound in the far-off nation of Afghanistan. The target, who avoided the missiles by "hours"? Osama bin Laden.

CNN, Aug 21 1998: 'Wag the Dog' Back In Spotlight
posted by scalefree at 5:52 PM on May 4, 2015 [5 favorites]

So much good in this movie. Dustin Hoffman and Robert DeNiro have amazing interplay all through it. Anne Heche is hilarious in her scenes with DeNiro (which is nearly all of them). It's some of David Mamet's best dialogue ever. And so prescient in so many ways.
I think it goes off the rails a little bit with the Woody Harrelson convict character but there's a pretty good payoff for it.
Favorite quotes:
"This? This is nothing."
"It's a pageant."
"Jim Belushi is Albanian?!"
"Two things I know to be true: there's no difference between good flan and bad flan and there is no war. Guess who I am."
"We need a new song... Something with a shoe.... Good old shoe ... Something like that. "
"Shit. What key do you want it in?"
posted by wabbittwax at 6:23 PM on May 4, 2015 [2 favorites]

Favorite quotes:

"Oooh, this guy is fucked."
posted by phunniemee at 7:24 PM on May 4, 2015

Hoffman: It's the best work I've ever done in my life, because it's so honest.

This was a pretty good movie. The internet/Google dates it, though. I don't think they'd be able to control the narrative as easily with the world of internet and cellphone cameras.

Did I see James Marsters in one of the bunker room scenes?
posted by Ik ben afgesneden at 5:20 PM on May 6, 2015

I really love this film. I like how it's mostly constrained to these few characters. It rattles along quite intensely because they have, like three days to win the election. We never know if we want them to win or not, but by dint of the framing they are the good guys and their president is the guy we want.
Of course they're terrible political manipulators and even murderers (by proxy), but so likeable.

The worrisome thing is that everything is so absurd, but at the same time so terribly terribly plausible.

I remember a long time back my dad kept saying he wanted to see "wag the dog" and we all assumed that it was a ridiculous cartoon animal film (because sometimes he'd do things like that) and we all refused and got a different film.
It was sometime later that I realised the mistake.
posted by Just this guy, y'know at 10:49 AM on May 7, 2015

My favorite line, just because I grew up there: "Ambassador? To where? I don't even like to go to Brentwood." I wish I'd written down more but I forgot I only had the movie for 24 hours.

The worrisome thing is that everything is so absurd, but at the same time so terribly terribly plausible.

Yeah, I kept thinking of how I happened to catch Enemy of the State -- a movie I saw three times in theatres years earlier -- post-9/11 and ended up crying because it had all come true. All of it. It's been a few presidential cycles since I've seen this and I'm even more jaded and cynical than when this came out. I'm sure I'll be seeing evidence of tail wagging everywhere.

I totally forgot about Woody Harrelson! Anne Heche is so good. I know she had some kind of personal problems but I'd love to see a comeback.

Dustin Hoffman has always been my favorite actor so I guess I'm kind of biased, but he was really outstanding. One new insight into his performance is my experience working with one of the actual Oscars producers (but not on the Oscars) a few times. With a little distance I can't believe how well Hoffman conveyed PRODUCING! All of it: PRODUCING!

It rattles along quite intensely because they have, like three days to win the election

One thing I loved is how the pacing of the film was almost relaxed in contrast with the very intense, hard deadline they were up against. I never felt it was lacking urgency but it never felt like the intensity was forced.

A+ Would wag again!
posted by Room 641-A at 7:02 PM on May 9, 2015

I loved this movie so much. And now it just seems even more prescient than it did in the wake of the Clinton impeachment.
posted by mce at 4:34 PM on June 29, 2019

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