Spartan

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David Mamet writes dialogue that doesn’t quite reflect how people really talk, but that doesn’t quite sound fake, either. It’s full of stops and starts and figures of speech, and it makes his plays and movies colorful, to say the least.

But more important than the style of his language is how smart it is. Mamet dialogue is rarely expository — that is, it never seems to be saying, “Here’s the premise for our movie; here’s who that guy his; here’s who this guy is.” In “Spartan,” for example, we are dropped into a tense situation and only learn the particulars after we eavesdrop on the participants. The film proceeds that way, letting us spy on the characters and figure things out for ourselves, rather than giving everyone nametags and expository monologues.

It adds some extra excitement to what is essentially a fairly standard, albeit handsomely realized, political thriller. At the outset, the Secret Service detail in Boston has been thrown into chaos because the president’s daughter, a student at Harvard, has disappeared. Val Kilmer leads the charge as a CIA officer named Scott, taking his rookie partner (Derek Luke) along as he hunts down the leads, follows the clues, and discovers that some truly sinister work is afoot. It’s a kidnapping, but hoo-boy, is it ever more than that, and it stretches into the realm of terrorism, betrayal and creepy nightclubs.

Mamet, who also directed the film, establishes some pretty tense moments through it all, including one where we’re not sure whether or not Scott really is going to stab out the eye of a reluctant witness. Scott is the kind of agent who might do such a thing, and Mamet is the kind of storyteller who might let him.

Some actors are better at handling Mamet’s dialogue than others, and it shows in the awkward performances by some of the less-experienced members of the troupe. Kilmer is not among those who have mastered it, but William H. Macy is, and he has a small but satisfying role as a shadowy government bigwig.

It’s good, enthralling stuff, as far as it goes. It’s nothing new, for sure, but it’s old tricks that have been repackaged very well.

B (1 hr., 46 min.; R, a lot of harsh profanity, some strong violence.)

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