My favourite film of the year's first quarter, "Spartan" proves David Mamet's best in ages and an invigorating shot in the arm for the all too overdone kidnap thriller genre. Gone are the repetitive dialogue and silly twists that mared "Heist", instead we're dropped right into the thick of things following Val Kilmer as...quite frankly it never mentions what his job or actual position is, that's one of the charms of this movie. Kilmer is a little like the darker brother to his role "The Saint", a McGuyver style jack-of-all-trades but with the necessary lethal training to get the job done when needed. Mamet follows him throughout and unlike other movies which telegraph intentions all too early on, we learn everything as Kilmer learns it and he's only told what he needs to know, no more.
This sounds annoying but it actually grounds the movie, makes the characters and events unfolding believable even when they start getting elaborate and dare I say it 'Hollywood'.
It also allows Mamet to completely mindfuck you several times - just when you think you've got it figured out, everything is reversed and/or not what it seems. I'm sure upon careful study the eventual twists and plot circumstances of the movie would fall apart (especially towards the somewhat silly and convoluted ending), but its breakneck pace and Kilmer's sheer determination and charisma move it rivetingly forward and Mamet's script although overdone is smart and inventive. It's like a great episode of "24" done cinematic style.
Without question Kilmer rocks, easily delivering one of his career best. Not only is the character interesting, he also delivers some of the best throwaway lines I've heard in a long time. They're not action hero gag jokes, but if you just listen to some of his part military code/part Mamet dialogue and think it over you just can't help but admire the terse symbolistic spook speak ("in this room you have all the slack in the world, the moment you leave I will zero youout"). Smaller roles from Ed O'Neill to Kristen Bell are all solid with only Macy left with little to do. Visuals are lusciously shaded with the screen permeated in a richly coloured darkness throughout to almost the point of stylish noir. Mark Isham's score is nicely oddball too. "Spartan" may have its ridiculous Hollywood thriller moments, but with Mamet at the helm its far smarter and more creative than it has any right to be. Highly recommended.