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Spartan  (2004)

 

Rating: R

Distributor: Warner Home Video

Release Date: June 15, 2004
Review posted: June 10, 2004

 

Reviewed by Dennis Landmann

 

SYNOPSIS

 

When Robert Scott (Val Kilmer) is recruited to find Laura, the daughter of a government official, he is paired with novice Curtis (Derek Luke). Scott and Curtis stumble upon a white slavery ring, which may have some connection to Laura's disappearance. But during the course of their investigation, they encounter unexpected obstacles that could risk their lives. Directed by David Mamet, Spartan co-stars Kristen Bell and William H. Macy.

 

CRITIQUE

 

"Where's the girl?"

 

This line is uttered repeatedly by at least three different characters in David Mamet's latest thriller, Spartan. This is a cool and highly suspenseful film for several good reasons. Mamet's script jumps right into action after a small character set-up with Kilmer's Scott at a remote military training facility by the woods. Scott is then called upon a highly secretive operation to find a missing girl (Laura), and what makes the first fifty minutes of this film so exciting and suspenseful is watching where his and Curtis' investigation leads to.

 

Mamet moves the story along rather fast but never gives away too much information. He doesn't bother telling the audience who every character is and what their jobs are. He simply lays out a basic story and lets his central character work out the details. In that sense, Mamet pulls off great suspense. Some viewers might not get pulled into the story as quickly as I, but that's okay.

 

Obviously, Spartan would be nothing without a great set of characters. There aren't a lot of them, but that's just fine. Mamet puts the focus almost entirely on Scott and his determination to finish the job, but the film's second half takes a deep and dark turn that I didn't expect. At that point I became very immersed in the story and suspense. A tiny weakness occurs during this shift, however. Some of the early scenes in the second half are a bit slow and confuse a little. But rest assured, the pace picks up again after only a short while.

 

 

Another reason why Spartan works is Val Kilmer's great performance. The actor displays a tough attitude and delivers his lines with intense sincerity. I like how he handles the scene with his character confronting a man inside a house, but he's even better playing a bad guy to get the attention of a prisoner who has information that could help advance the investigation into Laura's disappearance. The supporting cast is also very good, consisting of a strong Derek Luke, a cameo-like appearance by Ed O'Neill, and an ominous turn from William H. Macy. Two surprising performances come from Tia Texada, a military officer who helps Scott late in the investigation, and Kristen Bell, who plays Laura.

 

I also liked other things about the film, such as Mark Isham's jazzy and somewhat ominous score. It adds greatly to the suspense as well, though it's too bad the soundtrack isn't available for purchase, otherwise I would think about getting it. Cinematography by Juan Ruiz Anchia is also very good, especially how he shoots the more "exciting" or action-oriented portions of the story, and Editor Barbara Tulliver makes scene transitions work perfectly.

 

Spartan is more intense, thrilling, and smooth than Mamet's Heist, a thriller with Gene Hackman. Why, because Spartan moves at a faster pace, tells an exciting story, and centers on one man's duty to complete his mission at all costs.

 

THE VIDEO

 

Warner Bros. presents Spartan in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen. The film's color palette is bright and crisp, a great combination of blue hues and white. Colors are well-saturated. Sharpness and detail are fine, but not totally accurate. The print image looks good, but specks and little dirt spots show up frequently. Black levels and dark tones are deep, but not perfect. I didn't notice any compression artifacts. Overall, a pretty nice presentation where the colors add great atmosphere and depth to the film. However, I think Warner has produced better transfers of recent films. Optional subtitles include English, French, and Spanish.

 

"My watch says 2004, Derek. There shouldn't be a poster of Solider on that wall." - "Doesn't make much sense, like the movie." - "Indeed."

 

THE AUDIO

 

Warner Bros. presents Spartan in English 5.1 Dolby Surround Sound. A good presentation overall, with clear and noise-free audio coming from the front speakers. Channel separation is quite good, and the dialogue is easy to understand. The surrounds are active mainly during Mark Isham's brisk and jazzy score, but also during several scenes that produce great sound effects. One scene is particularly startling, but I won't spoil it. Needless to say, it'll give you a good jump.

 

THE EXTRAS

 

The only extra, besides the film's spoiler-y theatrical trailer, is a commentary by Val Kilmer. He discusses his character and preparation for the role, the film's story, David Mamet, the shooting process, and recalls stories (such as The Spartan Times, a weekly newsletter distributed on the set) relating to the production and his experiences. He also mentions his interests, such as espionage, talks about the co-stars, and goes off on tangents a few times. It's a pretty low-key track for most of the duration, and many gaps of silence are present. It remains a decent track nonetheless, but I think it ultimately depends on what you think of the film. If only Mamet or one of the co-stars could've joined Kilmer on the track, I think two people talking about a film is usually more energetic. It could've been exciting to have Mamet and Kilmer interview each other, but alas, Kilmer's solo act is a decent addition to the DVD.

 

"Yes, we'll be showing Spartan exclusively on this affluent island. It is among the film's 832 total screens. And yes, we're expecting a large audience for this area. Ed O'Neill is quite popular there right now."

 

The 109-minute feature is organized into twenty-eight chapters. The DVD arrives in a keepcase (hooray!) but no insert is available.

 

FINAL THOUGHTS

 

Released theatrically on March 12 with hardly any promotion, Spartan grossed a meager $4.3 million on 832 screens. That's too bad because David Mamet has crafted an exciting and suspenseful thriller with an awesome performance by Val Kilmer. After only three months, Warner Bros. is putting the film out on DVD. I'm cool with that, because this film deserves your attention, and hopefully it will get a second chance on home video.

 

DVD video/audio quality is pretty good. The commentary track is a good addition. Kilmer mentions deleted material, but it doesn't show here, which disappoints. Finally, the DVD cover art changed just a tiny bit from the clever theatrical poster. The new image of Kilmer doesn't look as smooth as the original, but the cover art is still cool-looking. With that, Spartan comes highly recommended.

 

VERDICT: HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

 

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:: The Disc

 

:: Disc Ratings

 

THE MOVIE

9

THE VIDEO

8

THE AUDIO

8

THE EXTRAS

4

OVERALL

7

 

:: Merchandise