The violent first reel of the movie may have prevented the movie from being a hit. Box office history shows that if -in the first 30 minutes- you show torture, suicide, and shotgun blasts to the chest then few wives or girlfriends will be willing to watch. Which means couples won't go.
Even if she agrees with the politics, she wont go. She wont be drawn in by droning, robotic music, either. Or by one dark, asphalt set after another.
Evil movies like Spartan tend to slip under the cultural radar. It's only later --when a teenager from nowhere commits a horrific suicide-shooting spree, leaving a note that says that viewing the movie in question a few years before had inspired him-- that people even begin to wonder if it wasn't so wholesome, after all.
The hinge of the plotThe stereotypes in Spartan are political, and the movie amps them up to a level usually seen only in satire.
The US President's daughter disappears and is now probably in the hands of sex-slavers. We see a Secret Service agent tied to a chair and beaten. Then we see this agent's brains on the floor, an apparent suicide. With this turn of events someone has to take charge, right?
..In stalks a man scowling so ostentantiously we know he is top dog (and used to it). This stereotype pulls out a photo of the young woman in a Catholic-schoolgirl outfit. He shows the photo to the assembled flunkies. He asks them what will happen to this precious person (besides being drugged and gang-raped, that is).
A flunky dutifully responds that since the President's daughter is famous for having red hair, the young woman will be killed because she has just dyed her hair blonde and cut it short, and thus the sex-slavers will not realize whose daughter they have got.
This is a script contrivance of unusually-high decadence. The script uses the line 'when her hair grows out'. I am convinced the writer intended that some of the movie-goers would switch the meaning of this line. That some will get a particular image into their heads, and the secret of her real hair color will be out in another way (since the woman has been sold into sex-slavery).
the script's depravityQ: what is the most reactionary plot possible in a movie?
A: nothing is more exploitable than a script involving sex slavery
Q: how do you adjust a movie script that involves the kidnapping and raping of women to make it as manipulative as possible?
A: write it so a rich person's daughter is a victim
Q: what are the most cynical plot turns that could be added next?
A: Adding race issues would do it
Writer/director David Mamet does all this, and worse. He writes is so the young woman's father is the President of the USA. He writes it that she goes to a famous elite college. He symbolizes virginity by making her red-haired. He adds degraded 911 subtext to the topic it is exploiting: it turns out that the sex-slavers are [drumroll please] Arabs!
Mamet sells these plot-choices as color-blind and realistic. You decide if they are (but first read up on it).
I have never hated a movie more. Spartan is insulting to the victims of the world sex-slave trade and to their families. It's fake story exploits and twists any possible recognition of these tragedies evilly.
I mentioned the race-baiting, the Arab sub-plot. This piece of crap movie also includes a black sidekick who is shot and badly injured ... twice. Yet who has a loyalty to the white hero like a puppy-dog.
what other people thinkDepressingly, the movie was critically well-recieved in many places. IMDb members currently rate it 6.9 out of 10.
==>Liberal USA reviewer Roger Ebert gave it 3 out of 4 stars. His review has this:
I think Mr. Ebert's mirror stayed a little too steamed-up that day (he is an under-rated critic, though).
The particular pleasure of "Spartan" is to watch the characters gradually define themselves and the plot gradually emerge like your face in a steamy mirror. You see the outlines, and then your nose, and then you see that somebody is standing behind you, and then you see it's you -- so who is the guy in the mirror? Work with me here. I'm trying to describe how the movie operates without revealing what it does.
==> A site calling itself Culture Vulture - choices for the cognoscenti ends its review with this
You are right, dude, you are a vulture. And the movie is devilish.
Always rooted in thoughtful ideas and graced with irony, his stylized dialogue has the effect of focusing attention on what is being said, as contrasted with, say, more ordinary thrillers in which the dialogue is generally little more than a series of plot-moving cliches. With that stylization, Mamet balances on the narrow line separating reality and a theatrical abstraction. ... It's all enhanced by his sense of visual style (a very dark palette, lots of saturated blues and greens here), his ability to draw out the best from his actors, and his devilishly imaginative way with Byzantine plotlines. [ellipted]