February 21, 2011
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Every cinephile has his favorite screenwriters. For me, David Mamet is up there. A man who makes plays and films, sometimes making the same thing in both mediums. Here, Mamet takes a simple concept and delivers a complex and engaging thriller.
Val Kilmer stars as Scott, a member of an elite task force that cleans up the government’s messes. His new assignment is retrieving the daughter of a high-ranking government official. Quickly, the simplicity is gone as things become more bureaucratic and complicated, forcing him to go beyond conventional means to bring her home.
Filmed in 2004, a good deal before the similar sounding Taken, the film hasn’t lost any of its provocative nature. Where Taken was an action film about the vengeance of a father, Spartan focuses on the controlled hands of those skilled men and women tasked to accomplish extremely difficult missions. What starts as a missing person, ends up with the girl (Veronica Mars‘ Kristen Bell) in the underground world of human trafficking, leading the government to send Scott far outside of the U.S. and the norms of his chain of command.
The film’s strength is in its writing. Though you still have questions about the characters at the end, the cloak of uncertainty only elevates the action. Is this actually happening or does Scott have so much forethought and commitment that he knows how this trick or that trick will get him what he needs? Val Kilmer is sublime as Scott. He fits the role so well that it’s a shame his star isn’t higher today. Backed by a very strong cast ranging from Ed O’Neill and William H. Macy to Derek Luke and Clark Gregg, the film succeeds on all fronts. Spartan is a brilliant thriller that deserves a larger audience. 4.5 out of 5 stars.